The whole reality TV revolution has, for the most part, left me cold (except, of course, Wife Swap, which is undeniably brilliant car-crash viewing). But when I recently met chef Olivier Guyard-Mulkerrin, a winner of Channel 5's Marco Pierre White's Kitchen Wars, I was completely captivated. One reason for this was that Olivier was standing right in front of me in real life – as opposed to on 'real' TV – and he was pointing a lethal-looking speargun right in my face.
Fortunately the gun wasn't fully loaded and the animated Frenchman was merely explaining (to me and a similarly enthralled throng) how he sources much of his seafood, and how his deep-seated passion for the sea spills over onto the plates of fruits de mer served at Les Saveurs, the restaurant he owns in Exmouth, Devon.
In summary: he puts on a wet suit and spends up to 14 hours freediving along reefs off the coast of East Devon, hunting the best fish he can find with his trusty speargun. This is the ultimate in free-range seafood – and, in an age when our oceans are being emptied of entire species by rapacious commercial fishing practices – it is harvested in a completely sustainably way, with zero collateral damage.
Olivier shoots only what he will cook, and occasionally – like when he tries to catch a conger eel – the fight is not all one-sided. 'If you're going to go for a conger, you'd better make sure you get a kill shot first time,' he explains. 'Otherwise he will come at you and fight back. Man, they taste great though.' The reward, apparently, is well worth the risk. 'Every time I serve someone a fish, there is a real story behind the meal,' enthuses Brittany-born Olivier, who says the sea is in his blood.
And I believe him. There is something primordially satisfying about catching your own dinner or providing for people with the fruits of your own hunting expeditions – especially when you can tell the tale of the chase.
While not everyone is willing to brave the cold and the congers to go speargun hunting like Olivier, Devon does offer many amazing opportunities for visitors who want to try their luck with rod and reel, or simply a handline. And not only can you catch your own supper – you also get to see this bountiful county from an entirely new perspective.
Try mackerel hunting from the lovely old fishing village of Beer in East Devon, where you can wander down the steep slipway, chat to guy called Simon and, for £20, hire a small motor boat kitted out with rods and hand reels for an hour or so. Simon will give you a few tips and off you go – trawl with the handlines out, cast a line, or simply bob around in Lyme Bay, soaking up the sun and the unique scenery. Keep your catch and barbecue it at home. You can go deep-water sea fishing with Phoenix Charters from Salcombe in South Devon, who can arrange for your catch to be prepared, cooked and served to you in the local pub, the Kings Arms, when you get back on dry land. Or pick up a kayak fishing rig from AS Watersports in Exeter and some hot tips on yak fishing from local expert Andy Benham. Alternatively, learn how to tickle trout with a finely placed fly under the guidance of freshwater fishing experts at Devon County Fly Fishing. But, if you do fancy discovering your inner Olivier, you can take a beginner's spearfishing course with Go Spearfishing at a number of venues in Devon. They offer a choice between a short, three-hour course that costs £45 and equips you with the basic skills and knowledge required for spearfishing, including essential equipment, breath-holding techniques, sustainability and fish recognition, and a more advanced Spearo Course that takes a full day and includes stuff about foraging as well as lessons on cleaning and cooking your catch.
And if luck doesn't shine on your line, or your spear goes nowhere near your intended prey, head over to see Olivier at Les Saveurs for some of the freshest seafood you'll ever taste, served by the restaurateur and raconteur extraordinaire.