When does food get dirty? Emma Clegg talks to Mark Studley – who is coming to the Bath Food Festival from 29–30 July – and discovers that to qualify, it needs to run down your chin
Mark Studley, aka The Dirty Food Guy, knows a thing or two about burgers. In a previous life he was a troubleshooter, leading sales teams, working with performance-based divisions in companies to make them profitable. “Then in 2017 (at the age of 38) I decided to jack it all in because I got fed up with paying money for rubbish food. I thought I could do it better,” Mark tells me.
“I was originally going to do pizzas, but then I suddenly got really angry with burger food, so I opened a burger bar in Bridgewater.” And so the Cow N Bun arrived, with a menu offering burgers such as Simple Chick, Double Dirty and six types of dirty fries. It won numerous awards.
So what is Dirty Food? It exemplifies unadulterated enjoyment and rejects the holy grail of clean eating – it’s anti-elimination and pro-satisfaction, and trades on being the best ‘worst food’ you will ever eat. It’s certainly full-on and not for the fainthearted. However for anyone who’s sick of the ‘clean’ and manufactured production lines of fast-food chains – or those for whom Buddha bowls and low-carb muffins do not tick the tummy-rumbling satisfaction boxes – it brings the big, weighty self-indulgent love back into food. Mark’s motto is, “It’s not good food if it’s not running down your chin.” Refer to image of Mark.
Mark made half a million beef burgers in three years of running the Cow N Bun, but sold up in 2020. Now he’s a private chef championing dirty food, cooking for people in their houses, and working as a food consultant, reimagining restaurant menus with a dirty food influence. He’s branched out from burgers, offering ‘dirty’ takes on everyday dishes, like spag bol cupcakes or beef wellington tacos. His recent book, Dirty (Meze Publishing, £16), offers 50 savoury recipes including finger grabs, naughty burgers, dirty dogs and loaded fries. The recipes are easy and accessible and most can be made in under 30 minutes. “There’s no need to get overwhelmed by this style of cooking, it’s literally very simple stuff – and if you don’t like making sauces, use a jar sauce,” says Mark.
Dirty food exemplifies unadulterated enjoyment and rejects the holy grail of clean eating
“Does dirty food fit within a healthy diet?” I ask tremulously. The answer to that is not exactly yes, but there are all sorts of options. “My book is a guide and you can go off and do it your own way. I go full fat because I like the taste, but you can substitute ingredients and make it healthier,” says Mark. And even if you follow the full-fat route, what’s wrong with a once-a-week treat?
Mark is appearing at the Bath Food Festival in Royal Victoria Park from 29–30 July and will demonstrate one of his dirty food specialities there|fantasticfoodfestivals; Mark Studley@dirtyfoodguy