Simon Letzer (unmasked as the seasick fisherman who once caught a moped but now with legs fully gathered and nets a-ready) populates neighbouring fishmongers and restaurants with his trawls whilst planning to ‘smoke’ into his retirement.
Simon served teas and coffees in his front garden, quietly talking of his childhood and his introduction to fishing… ‘I first started when I was with my dad, I think I was nine when I first went.’ The scene, whilst sat sipping our brews was idyllic: birds, picnic bench, and a hearty badminton court sized veg patch boarded by railway sleepers. ‘I got really seasick to start with, I loved it, but when I was there I felt like death.’ He smiled in the retelling and I half expected his fisherman’s smock to blush with embarrassment as if its master had ever felt at odds with the sea! ‘But because I was going back to school in the week I forgot how ill I felt…and I went again.’ A romance started to bubble inside, at that very moment I wanted to be a fisherman! I had sea legs! Any notable childhood meals I asked? ‘My dad was a shrimp fisherman when I first went to sea with him and eating brown shrimps freshly boiled out of the copper on the boat was a good one’. Ideal! Having readied myself to steal that smock and jump ship I craved more… ‘At three o’clock in the morning in January, it is the most unromantic job that you could ever have. When it’s sort of drizzling and you have to get your wet gloves on and get out of the Wheel House and on deck in the dark, that’s the reality of it’ POP! The smock was safe, fishing suddenly took a down turn as we heard the truth relayed. It costs, on average, two hundred and fifty pounds worth of fuel each time Simon takes his boat out and he is in the lap of the seas as to whether his catch will even ‘wipe its face’, cover his costs. ‘I’ve caught all the old boots and bicycles and buckets. I caught a moped once.’ Seemingly a fisherman can laugh at a bad catch and turn their attention swiftly on the fortunes of the next net to be cast. Simon certainly seemed to harbour few scars or he concealed them well and seeing the product of his labours popping up in restaurants and fishmongers along the North Norfolk coast, each keenly attributing every crab or fish to his name, it is obvious Simon has quite the reputation in this nook of England.
‘The sea gets hold of you but also… I’m a foodie person as well and it’s a nice little niche to be in.’ On the conversation of food and freshness, Simon is not the man to toil with, he is a connoisseur. Urged to share his perfect meal he took it to the optimum… ‘We eat what I forage and grow… We often have meals completely of our own, vegetables from the garden and the fish I have caught… a couple of fillets of mackerel you have just caught on the way home from sea and some new potatoes and broad beans out of the garden is about as good as it gets.’ It was clear no flies had even the glimmer of a feast at the Letzer household, their menu had only just died, it had certainly never met Jack Frost, it was caught that day and harvested that moment. How could you top that? Could a restaurant compete? ‘I like good food but I’m not one for sort of faddy stuff, smears of different colours… a lot of it looks nicer than it actually is… the important bit is that it tastes delicious.’ Understandably when your own staple diet gasps its last breath only moments before being cooked, restaurants have their work cut out and no dressing is going to disguise the fact their dish has perhaps laid limp longer than yours. The word ‘pure’ sprang to mind as Simon talked about food, he was a pure hunter-gatherer.
Envy grew, Pic-nik is all about redefining the hunter-gatherer and here we had the perfect model, Kate Moss move aside, we have Simon Letzer. Dare we ask him of his perfect picnic? Firstly where? ‘House Hills on Scolt Head Island over looking Overy Staithe and Brancaster and the salt marshes and the sea on the other side… an amazing view of the most beautiful scenery in Norfolk…’ A deep swallow befell my dry mouth… Invite yourself man! What would we eat? ‘Smoked salmon and horseradish sandwiches with cucumber in them.’ Aaaah! … The smoked salmon! Perfect! Simon completed his enviable water colour with his smokehouse. Operating out of his back garden the smokehouse was his father’s retirement plan and one that Simon had fostered with the same ambition. ‘Fishing is a young man’s job and there will become a time when I don’t want to be at sea anymore and it will be a good way to carry on.’ Hurray to the Fisherman, the smoker, the newly crowned model of Pic-nik and smocks off to a man and family who are living fresh.