22 September 2023 · Author Profile
Mark Studley is a self-taught chef whose over-the-top burgers and street food have won many fans (and awards). He stumbled into the business almost by chance “I got fed up with paying money for rubbish food. I thought I could do it better”, and opened the Cow N Bun burger bar in Somerset. He now works as a private chef, and Dirty is his first cookbook. The book won private chef platform YHangry’s cookbook of the year award in 2022. ckbk co-founder Matt Cockerill spoke to the chef to understand the dirty ethos.
Q You launched your chef life at age 38, after a career in sales. Were you largely self-taught? Were there any cookbooks or specific chefs that you would cite as influences?
Wow, can’t believe its been 6 years already. Im a proper late comer to all this. I’m fully self taught, I had no idea what I was doing then and here we are 6yrs later and I still don’t now really. I’m just winging it as I go and learning all the time and just having fun with food and enjoying it all. The weird thing is I actually don’t read many cookbooks as to me most of them are very same-y, standardised following the same trends as all the others. For me to be interested in anything it has to jump up and punch me in the face with how differently good it is, have short and sweet processes without dragging on (I get bored easily) and talk to me like a human in simple terms which is why I wanted my book to be totally different and unlike anything else out there.
Q Speaking as a self-taught chef, what would you say to people who tend not to cook very much because they lack experience / confidence in the kitchen?
Embrace it and don’t be afraid to try making stuff. Confidence comes over time, and if you want to use frozen, packaged or tin ingredients as you feel more comfortable with it instead of fresh then use it. The main thing is you’re making something and having fun doing it. I get messages from people who tell me they never had confidence to pick up a cookbook or make a burger, but they got given my book and say its totally changed them.
Q To what extent is Dirty Food is a reaction against "clean eating"? Do you think the "clean eating" trend in cookbooks lost track of what good food should be about? Do you think there's a bit of a reaction against that trend now?
It maybe a bit of a reaction, but on a whole I doubt it’s a big reaction. Dirty food is all about fun food that packs big flavour punches, getting stuck in and not caring if its all over your hands and face. I think these days everyone tends to follow the narrative in life, and there has been a huge boom in clean eating, fad diets, calorie counting books and so on but has it really made a change? I don’t think so. The clean eating books clearly sell well, from what I’ve seen as they’re everywhere and topping the cookbook charts. The press want to push that sort of book on people rather than proper food books like mine as it’s the narrative. I think it’s made a lot of cookbooks lose what good food is as there’s too much emphasis on watching everything and counting carbs and so on and to be honest I’m sick of that sort of book and seeing it everywhere as to me we should embrace food, and not be “forcibly" directed to these kind of books. People just need to educate themselves that dirty food can also be dirty clean food and not just look at a picture of say a dirty burger and then write it off without understanding that it can be fun food for all.
Q Dirty is resolutely carnivore, but you hint in the intro that a veggie followup could be on the cards. Is it possible to do veggie food that embraces the Dirty ethos? Any examples?
Ha! Funnily enough my wife is veggie bordering vegan and as you can imagine I’m her worst nightmare food-wise. I do regularly cook up dishes from my book for guests that are veggies. I try to keep everything as close to the real thing as possible and the same as what the meat eaters are having. For example, any of the beef burgers I can do veggie as there’s some really good plant-based “beef” out there now. I’ve made veggie doner kebabs where I’ve used seitan doner meat, and I pretty much make my chilli queso dip nachos for veggies on a weekly basis. It’d be fun to do a dirty veggie book maybe, as like clean eating has been, plant-based food is the rage right now and you can definitely have a lot of fun with it, that’s for sure.
Q The book also focuses on the savoury. Is that just the kind of chef you are? Are we likely to see Dirty Desserts at some point? (Maybe you need a Dirty pastry chef to collaborate with!)
Yeah kind of, desserts aren’t my strong point, never have been as I get frustrated when making them. I think I’ve perfected a couple that I use on my bookings, but that’s it. I am actually working on a couple of dirty dessert offerings at the moment but are they book-worthy? I don’t know. I’m friendly with a couple of good dessert chefs and I’ve always said that desserts are an art form and proper skill and I have the mad ideas for them but I don’t have the patience needed to go with dessert making. I like things simple but banging and not taking too much time to do. But if you know someone who’ll be able to teach me patience and bring out my dirty dessert ideas, send them my way as it’ll be fun.
Q You went on from running a successful burger restaurant to work as a private chef. Any highlights (or lowlights) from this career change? Do you get any crazy requests?
Selling my business and moving into being a private chef has been the best move for me in all honesty. I now have no stress, no overheads no staff issues, no delivery issues I know exactly what I’m doing, for how many, and I have the ideal work life balance and I couldn’t be happier. I literally started properly in January 2022 and this year has been phenomenal work wise. I did more than double the amount of bookings in the first 7 months of this year than I did in the whole of last year, I’ve become a preferred chef for Sony Music for when they have people in the south west, Ballers in God which are some of the biggest names in world football, and was approached by Airbnb to become one of only 350 worldwide Chef Ambassadors. Oh and also being named Cookbook author of the Year 2023 which I was pretty chuffed about. I meet a lot of interesting people and so far haven’t had any requests that have shocked me, but I do think I’ve seen and heard everything now especially at hen parties. Overall I still have to pinch myself that people want me to go and cook for them, and cook my fun style of food.
Q The food looks amazing and perfect for a blow-out event. How can we book you?
To book me, people can come to me direct through my socials (@dirtyfoodguy) or add me to their Airbnb booking if they’re staying in the South West of England. Aside from that, I can also be booked through platforms such as Takeachef, Yhangry or Togather.
Q Do you have a personal favourite ingredient which perhaps doesn't get the love it deserves?
Minced beef is an ingredient I feel doesn’t get enough love. People use it everyday but you never see or hear people really raving about it. Its so versatile and pretty much goes with anything in any cuisine and holds flavours like a boss.