Anthony Bowen is a 38-year-old, rugby playing, Catford resident and the connoisseur behind Man Made Foods, a new food and catering company.
The concept of Man Made Foods is ‘anti-delicate’ and therefore anti- Great British Bake off style cooking. To emphasise that point, one of the photos on the company website even features a picture of a fairy cake with a red cross over it.
Anthony explains: “The clue is in the name really – we like to make big ‘man’ portions and include lots of punchy flavour, whatever the dish.”
The project was born after Anthony was thrown a few set-backs, losing his job in the recession and having a family and a pregnant wife to provide for. But his passion for food and a little entrepreneurial imagination saved the day.
“About four years ago I lost my job. At the time my wife was pregnant with our first child. It was a bit difficult, but it was good to be around the house a bit more.”
Bowen, who had been working for the Financial Services Ombudsman, decided to re-train as an accountant, but that didn’t work out: “When I graduated I could not find an employer who would get me on the type of contract I needed to finish the accreditation so I could become a qualified accountant.”
He sounds remarkably un-fazed by this problem: “It was annoying to have put in three years hard work and not get the job that I wanted at the end, but there you go”.
He and his wife put their heads together and considered what he could do instead, which that led them to the brilliant idea of cooking and selling food.
“It had been going on in the background, I’ve always enjoyed cooking and love eating, it’s a big feature of our family life, and I’d often make the food at family parties.
“My wife became like the silent partner in the creation of my business. She has her own job, but she gave me hints and ideas. We are a really good team.
“We were doing well at markets and it started to become a fledgling business around mid-November last year. It was a good time really because we could take advantage of the Christmas markets.”
The food has so far been a success, keeping customers happy by catering for people’s penchant for big flavours and decent sized portions.
“We make hot and spicy curry, chilli flavoured Italian dishes, and carrot cake and lemon drizzle muffins for deserts. Our attitude is: ‘Its cold outside and we’re hungry, lets eat something calorific and have a good time.’”
There are pros and cons of market stall selling, for Anthony, the main benefit is the social side.
“Its so easy in London to get in your own shell and not catch people’s eye when you walk down the street. Markets are way of getting people to be more connected.
“You can start talking to a customer about one thing, be it food or the weather and before you know it you are talking about all sorts of things, and it can go on for ages.
“However, we had a complete wash-out on the last Saturday before Christmas; it was one of the those weeks when it just rained and rained, and it was the only day that we actually made a loss. It was tough because when we came back we were a couple of quid short of paying the babysitter. We really had a think that night about what to do next, but luckily the rest of the Christmas season was good.”
After setting up in such perilous circumstances the business seems like it could be hit by anything and bounce back. Anthony is of a firm belief that starting in a recession has given him a thicker skin and the ability to cope.
“We are looking forward to the summer now because we will be at lots of food festivals and stuff like that. I’m from a rugby family so we are lucky that we can get involved in catering at rugby clubs.
“Starting in a recession has its benefits I think, it makes you stronger and ready for the future and when times become good again, you won’t be complacent. You’ve got to be positive.”
The next Man Made Food stall can be found at Catford Market’s fair trade special event, on Sunday, March 3.