And with that he opens the throttle of his 19-foot fishing boat, and we are banging through the waves out of the Great Egg Harbor Inlet and into the Atlantic Ocean.
Roman, all of 31, owns a catering company, two three-bell restaurants, Blackfish and Mica, and has plans to open a third restaurant this fall. And, as if he is not busy enough, he goes fishing before dawn a few mornings a week, occasionally taking along another chef.
This morning, it's his buddy Josh Lawler, also 31, chef-owner of the Farm and Fisherman, a new Center City restaurant that also just earned a three-bell, or excellent, review.
Not only are both chefs local boys - Roman grew up in Fishtown, Lawler in Conshohocken - the two have history: They went to cooking school together at Drexel and were brothers in the same fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, same pledge class.
Both are also avid fishermen. Roman spent summers fishing with his mom in Ocean City; Lawler with his grandfather in Cape May. And both prominently feature seafood on their menus.
While both are successful, neither chef has risen to the level where he no longer cooks nights. Roman cooks on the line four shifts a week between his two restaurants, and Lawler works most nights; each cranks out 40 to 100 dinners, stressful night after stressful night. They are both married with little ones: Lawler has 18-month old twins; Roman has three under the age of 5, and he and his family rent a house for the summer in Ocean City.
So, early-morning fishing is a time to get away, to be on the water, away from the pressure and the grind.
After bouncing over the waves for about an hour on a relatively calm morning, we reach a spot, about five miles off the coast of Atlantic City, where Roman is convinced we'll find fish. Partly because of the early morning fog, no land is in sight.
Of course, little intuition or guesswork is involved. We are directed by a magical GPS/sonar fish finder device that registers where fish are lurking on the bottom of the sea.
As the chefs bait their hooks with clams and drop them over the side - no casting here; the device is so accurate, it shows exactly where the fish are - the conversation turns to the camaraderie of chefs in Philadelphia. Are they competitive, are they supportive?
"I don't have time to be competitive," says Lawler. "I don't eat out at that many other restaurants. I'm doing service every night."
"Oh, I'm competitive, I'll admit it," says Roman. "I think competition is good. It makes you better. And I want that fourth bell."
And, at least in fishing, Roman is not above giving himself every advantage.
"Uh, for the record," points out Lawler, "did you notice he baited my line with only one hook and his with two?"
The boat is gently rocking in the sea. There is a soft, cool breeze off the coast, but no more than a minute after dropping his line, Roman is whining: "Come on fish."
And then, at 6:40 a.m., just moments after the bait is lowered, Roman has success.
"Sea robin!" he calls out. "This is Josh's favorite fish," ribbing his buddy about a little-known bottom-dweller that Lawler has featured on his menu. And, true to his competitive soul, Roman is keeping score: "It's 1-nothing."
Roman snags a couple small sea bass, 6-inchers, too small to keep, and throws them back.
But just forget the idea of a lazy morning on the boat. No more than 30 minutes in, and Roman's frustration is growing. "Why the hell are we not getting more bites here?"
He consults his map and his device and motors over to another spot, where he starts to have better luck.
Soon both chefs are catching: sea robins, sea bass, a good-size porgy, even a flounder, though it was too small to keep.
"Mostly when I fish, I just release them," Lawler says. "I don't want to clean them. And the yield is terrible. You would barely get one or two portions out of these fish."
Roman, who fishes more often, has a sous chef cleaning the fish he brings back.
"I catch fish that I will put on the menu that night, but that's not why I come out. I could not make a living selling what I catch. I like the hunt, the thrill."
As the morning wears on, the chefs talk about the challenges of their work.
"Creating isn't the hard part," says Lawler. "The hard part is making it great every day, making it great for the 100th time, the monotony of it. . . . You're in there every night, pushing."
"I love the cooking, that's the easy part," says Roman. "I don't always love the rush. It depends on how well it is going. . . . It's the business part that is a challenge."
After a good run of catches, Lawler moves to the back of the boat and takes a break; he's starting to feel the effect of no sleep, having been out late gambling in Atlantic City the night before. Soon he is fast asleep on the bow of the boat.
So Roman moves into a routine, baiting, catching, releasing, or throwing the big-enough fish into a cooler. At this point, he is handling three rods and reeling in fish at a pretty good clip.
Did someone say this was relaxing?
"Believe it or not, this is relaxing for me," Roman says. "I love the chaos. I thrive on the chaos."
As he reels in the latest, he hands over one of his rods, and lo and behold, a fish tugs on the line, and I reel in a pretty respectable 2-pound sea bass, probably the biggest fish caught so far.
"Hey that's about $18 worth of fish you just caught," says Roman. "That just paid for gas."
By 10 a.m., Lawler is waking up and is ready to head home. But Roman is still pulling in fish and still trying to land a flounder big enough to keep.
"Just a few more minutes," he says.
He cuts into one of the sea robins, using it for bait for the flounder. "This is all this fish is good for," he says, continuing to mock his buddy.
That night, Roman, showered and sharp in his chef whites, is back cooking at Mica, his new restaurant in Chestnut Hill. A special offering is on the menu that night: sea robin crudo, with grapefruit and pea sprouts.
Also, oven-roasted sea bass, with fresh thyme, served with a simple wine and butter sauce, just like his mom used to make when they caught sea bass in Ocean City. He serves the very fish we caught that morning - and it is sublime.
By 10 p.m. Roman has been up - fishing, driving, cooking - for 17 hours already. He's supposed to be back in Ocean City, ready to fish again, at 5 a.m.
"Maybe I'll sleep in my car," he says.
Contact food editor Maureen Fitzgerald at 215-854-5744 or email@example.com.