Diederich Vannieuwenhuyse – Passion Personified

A tribute

RIP 16/09/1960 – 13/07/2021

A Remarkable Man

I got to know Diederich at Spar in Nigeria. From the first moment we met, we got on like a house on fire. We stayed in the same apartment in the Spar compound behind Spar head office. During the day we would work on the new factory design and at night we would talk meat!

We often finish a case of beer together and at 1 or 2 in the morning we would say that when most people drink too much, the conversation becomes pointless. Not so with us. We shared recipes and processing tips. “How would you handle a, b, or c?” one of us asked, and another hour’s conversation followed. In Diederich, I found a kindred spirit!

Back in South Africa, our close collaboration continued. We spoke often. Sometimes weekly. All new project ideas I bounced off him and he would send me regular updates on where he is with the Spar project.

It was during this time that I started my quest to relook meat emulsions and questioned everything I was taught. What was the actual function of soy (apart from the protein content)? Could we replace isolate with something else? What would that look like? What is the cheapest form of soy we can use? The most un-processed! I ran trails on what we discussed and report my findings which would lead to more trials and ideas.

What 5th quarter components are there to replace serials and grains in meat sausages. How do we dry out formulations that are too wet? Chemically, what options do we have to soften meat? How to deal with mould on biltong? The list goes on and on and on.

We not only shared a passion for meat processing. We spoke about Africa and shared our greatest experiences on this vast continent. Each of us made a list from the other person’s experiences of places we still want to visit.

He spoke often about Sarah, his darling wife and what she meant to him. In the end, I can say that Diederich was an amazing human being and a brilliant butcher! Part of a dying breed of men!

The “no” you have already!

One of the best life lessons he taught me was the saying, “the ‘no’ you have already!” When I would speak to him about pitching an “impossible” concept to people who may not go for it he always told me – “So, you are certain they will reject the suggestion? So, the “no” you have already! What do you have to lose then by pitching it!” I followed his advice countless times and it has stood me in good stead!

His Recipes

One learns a lot about a man by looking at his recipes. Below are notes I took from some of our many discussions. His thinking is reflected clearly. When I was at the Spar stores last week, I had a look at some of the recipes he introduced. It is Diederich! Old school, creative, unrestricted by modern thinking! Adventurous!

Stafan’s Tribut

His son, Stefan sent me a link to a tribute he posted to his dad. With his permission, I translated it from Dutch and give it here.

“Dad, grandpa Didi,…

‘No worries, I’m fine here and I feel good… and a happy birthday.’ Those were the last words you said to me on Monday evening. A few hours later I received the terrible news that I will never be able to speak to you again.

I will always remember you as a true entrepreneur, not afraid of the unknown and the adventure. Qualities you passed on to me, the will to succeed in your dreams. When someone asked you for advice, you moved mountains to help, as best you could. As a child, I learned that hard work only gets you there, and that’s what you’ve always done. You have had successes, but also great setbacks.

In 2009 you finally chose the greatest adventure of your life, moving to Africa. I couldn’t reach it, but you were unstoppable. Your decision was made…

As hard as it was for me to understand. I noticed you were happy and free over there. You soon got to know Sarah. You started your new ‘African’ life there. Every time I heard you were busy with new projects. You were so proud every time something went well and you could focus on the next. So you went from Uganda to Ethiopia, to eventually find your last stop in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, we didn’t hear from each other often. Yet you tried to come to Belgium every year to see us and to see Scout grow up. These were often difficult moments and saying goodbye was always difficult for us. Although we didn’t want to admit that to each other.

Dad, I never told you, but know that I admired you for your willpower. As a teenager, you were the one I could say and ask anything to, no matter how embarrassing it was at times. We were two hands on one belly. You were so happy when I met Carolyne. Someone you really felt good about. I take comfort in the fact that you were also proud of what I and Carolyne have accomplished together so far.

‘The white man, with the African/Indian soul’ Your life was way too short! Still, you enjoyed it!

A Final Masterpiece

The Isolo Project we worked on together. Here is part of the last drawing he made that I found in his notes.

Seeing your baby taking shape. A legacy project to Mr Haresh Keswani and you!

Good Buy My Friend

You told me many times that when we one day retire, we would start our own meat processing company! We were planning your visit to Cape Town. I am still waiting for your visit and we will have our company! You were a legend and I am privileged to have known you! We are poorer without you.

Houseman describes the passing of a man to an athlete dying young, which you were! He ends with two verses which is perfectly applicable to you. The sill of shade is how he describes death. The runner will no longer defend his victories. In his life was, as Stefan pointed out, early victories for which he was crowned for. Despite this life is real and you had many setbacks. We too share in this experience! Even in death, there is an everlasting crown on your head. Life is so short! Mr Haresh Keswani, his wife, his sons, Karan in particular, his brother PK, Anil, Sanesh, Dapo, the many butchery managers at the Spar stores, the hundreds of coworkers who supported you, your son, grandson and many family members, your darling Sarah and I miss you every day! You were a force!

“So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.”