‘But he was such a lovely man…….’
Yes, I do mean Food and Drink Innovation Network Jeffrey Hyman – a lovely, lovely man. But being loved by everyone could not, sadly, protect him from a massive stroke last Tuesday night, which he did not survive.
I can’t now remember how many years ago it was that Simon Wright suggested Jeffrey contact me to talk about running a ‘freefrom’ seminar with FDIN but it must be getting on for ten. (Actually it is exactly ten years ago – I have just looked on on the FDIN site and the first freefrom seminar was in September 2006.) Well, we did talk about it, and did put one on, and have done so every year since, the last one just four months ago. A much valued fixture in the freefrom year.
Jeffrey used to talk about me as being ‘the vortex of freefrom’ but he truly was the ‘vortex of innovation’ in the food manufacture. The six or eight FDIN seminars each year covered every aspect of innovation in food manufacturing: functional food; fibre; fair-trade; glycemic index; nutraceuticals; high performance in innovation teams; sourcing locally, selling nationally; carbon footprint; healthy middle years; sustainability; salt; private label versus the brand; sugar…. Plus regular seminars on packaging and at least two a year on NPD (new product development) in some guise or other.
Not only did he get great speakers (Jeffrey knew everybody there was to know in the food world) but he pioneered a ‘table team’ system unique in the conference world. Attendees were sat at round tables (not that unusual) but were required to change tables after the morning coffee break and again after lunch. And you were heavily encouraged not to sit with colleagues with whom you might have come. The purpose was to ensure that you met the greatest number of your fellow attendees because, as Jeffrey stressed at the beginning of every seminar, you often got more from the conversation you had with your next door neighbour than you did from the speakers.
Not only were you required to change tables after each session but before the session began there were ten minutes when those at each table had to introduce themselves to their fellows, tell them what they did and ‘tell them what they would actually like to do – not necessarily the same thing!’ Since the seminars were all run under Chatham House Rules (‘what is said in the room stays in the room’) this could, lead to some interesting conversations!
And finally, to cement your relationship with your table team, at the end of each session, before you were allowed to rush for your refreshing dose of caffeine, each table was required to draw up – and write down – a list of questions for the speakers for the Q&A at the end of the morning.
Over the years I have been to a number of non-freefrom FDIN seminars and have never failed to enjoy them. Indeed I had been to two very recently, a Post Brexit Briefing Day, expertly chaired by Professor Tim Lang, and a Food and Drink Trends 2017 – and beyond which was chaired by the legendary Michael Whiteman, President of the Baum + Whiteman the US consultants whose annual ‘trends’ forecast are bible material for the US restaurant and hotel world. (Jeffrey really did get anyone who was anyone to speak at his seminars!)
Quite soon after Jeffrey and I first met in 2006, we decided to launch the FreeFrom Food Awards and knowing that Jeffrey had learned his trade at Sharwoods as a product developer and tester, I called upon his expertise. He was not impressed by our somewhat amateur approach and over the years, drilled our teams of judges to assess ‘appearance, aroma, texture and taste’ in an objective and scientific way. He was also prone to coming up with incredibly complicated, erudite and totally unworkable systems of judging and marking – but took our failure to adopt them without offence! (Here he is overseeing fellow judge, Alex Haswell, as she assesses that bit of pie – and below with fellow judges Sue Cane and Jane Milton writing the notes which proved so useful for feedback to entrants.)
We lived on either side of Hampstead Heath and were both fond frequenters of the Kenwood House café; he would meet up with his family there most weekends. But we tended more often to ‘do’ coffee in our front room where our discussions would often range far beyond their ostensible purpose (planning the next seminar). Jeffrey was justifiably proud of – and rather surprised by – the respect in which he was held within our food world; neither of us could really understand how we had reached our ‘vortex’ positions, but were happy to occupy them.
But it was not at all about food. In the days when the FDIN happened just outside Daventry (‘the most central place in England and therefore the easiest to get to’ – not entirely sure that that was true) I remember walking round the golf course with him after the seminar was over, discussing what he was going to do with his life. As he pointed out, if you have children your future is to a certain extent mapped for you; if you do not, the responsibility is yours to choose what to do with it.
He also had fine bass voice – he did rejoin a choir a few years ago but found that his inability to read music made the experience more stressful than enjoyable. But he did always lead our annual rendering of Jerusalem at the FoodsMatter Christmas party (in memory of another good friend of the FFFA tasting sessions).
We also shared a weakness for pantos and were to be found sloping off to the Hackney Empire each year for an annual dose of Christmas fun – although sadly he did not make it this year as the earlier small stroke he had suffered in October had left him with ‘restless legs’ and he did not think he could sit through whole performance. I went alone and thought of him – as I shall next year.
So it is not just the food world which has suffered a great loss with his untimely death. For me it means no more early morning calls which always started with ‘Michelle, dahlin’….. – Jeffrey, dahlin’…… No more long coffee sessions setting the world to rights; no more annual outings to the panto; no more knowing that there was a good friend just across Hampstead Heath with whom to discuss problems whenever needed; no more Jeffrey to set our judging sessions to rights and with whom to have good laugh; just no more lovely, lovely Jeffrey…….
As for the FDIN, which was so very much his creation? His long-time friend and collaborator, Sue Lister, who has organised him through eight seminars a year for the last ten years, says that the two seminars planned for the new year will go ahead – but after that, who knows. It is almost impossible to think of an FDIN seminar without Jeffrey waving that Jeroboam of champagne which was the possible prize for staying to the end… Sadly, he did not manage to stay to the end himself.
Jeffrey’s funeral will be on the 27th February but because the venue is quite small it will be for family and close friends only. However, we hope that there will be a memorial event for Jeffrey in the coming months and I will certainly post about it.
Meanwhile there is now a page open on the FDIN site where people can can post their thoughts, memories and condolences. If you would like to do so please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or check in to jeffrey.hyman.muchloved.com