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Survival of the Fittest: From Drum & Bass to the MasterChef Final

We need to talk about Survival.

If you don’t know him as one of the most prolific and well-respected sonic craftsmen in the scene, releasing on the likes of Dispatch, Metalheadz and Exit Records during a career that spans over 20 years; then perhaps you know him better as Steve Kielty – the South-East Londoner who stormed through to the MasterChef final, wowing judges and professional chefs alike with his technical and forward-thinking approach to cooking.

If you don’t know him as either, then now’s the perfect time to catch up…

Musically he’s got two critical releases dropping next month: his highly-anticipated solo album dropping on Dispatch on June 30 and a new SCAR EP (with Script) on Metalheadz on June 2. Food-wise, he’s just as busy with a range of pop-up events across London and a food-stall at Hospitality’s Garden Party in July. Whether you catch him in the kitchen or the studio, one thing is certain: his signature attention to detail and technical prowess are evident in everything he does.

As proved by the last seven weeks on BBC as he kept us glued to our screens wowing us with mouth-watering dishes like desserts encompassing seven different elements, that infamous pea dish and loads more creations, gaining support from industry-insiders and punters alike.

We caught up with the man himself to ask him what’s cooking (sorrynotsorry)…

So what came first – the love for cooking or music?

100% music… It’s something I’ve done since I was about 14 years old, totally immersed in the rave scene when it kicked off in the 90s, so I’ve been in it from the very start. I first started releasing stuff in 1995, so the food thing came much later. I’ve always enjoyed it, but it’s probably only really in the last 10-15 years that I sort of realised how much I actually enjoy it.

What spurred the love for cooking then?

Well I think part of it is when you make a hobby a job, you have to find another hobby don’t you?! So food definitely took music’s place in that respect. The same can be said with food though – I bet if you spoke to any chefs they certainly ain’t going home after work and spending five hours cooking some 5-star dinner. They might do it every now and again, but I can guarantee you these dudes who are cooking at a top level go home and just crave a takeaway!

Speaking from personal experience?

Haha a bit… Through a lot of the filming for MasterChef I’d ring my wife on the way home and be like ‘let’s just order Chinese!’

Don’t blame you! So how did applying for MasterChef come about, was it something you always wanted to do?

Two of my sisters had been banging on about it, along with a lot of my friends as well. I don’t really like that kind of attention you know, the whole reality TV thing, but I suppose MasterChef is the least reality TV of the reality TVs. I couldn’t have done it if it was any different really.

My sister Elizabeth just rang me up filling the form out one day… I sort of knew what she was up to and eventually was like alright just send this bloody thing over to me and I’ll do it just to shut you up. Couple of months later I got a phone call, then an interview, and then another call telling me I’d made it on to the show. At that point it was like oh shit, this is really happening…

Ha! Reality kicked in! Was filming quite intense then?

Yeah it’s a pretty drawn out process. It’s actually very similar to working with a vocalist in the studio – you’ll get them to do twice as much as you actually need, or even more just in case, and it’s the same principle with their approach to filming.

It certainly takes a lot of shots and editing to get me smiling as much as they managed to! A lot of my mates were like “Steve, you look so happy!” and anyone who actually knows me was just like ‘what is going on there?’

 

You really were quite smiley now you mention it…

Well it’s better than being the miserable git in drum and bass to be fair!

This is true! Must’ve been tough keeping your involvement in the show a secret for so long?

Yeah I couldn’t even talk about it even a week before the show, it was a hard secret to keep, that’s for sure! I was on the advert to begin with so I was able to say it earlier than some people at least… My wife was shouting about it more than I was anyway, so I just let her spread the word once we were allowed to!

How awkward were those walking-towards-the-camera shots? You’ve got that strut down to a T mate…

Haha, what you see is a tenth of what was actually filmed and I’ll tell you what, after doing that, I am very good at walking! Luckily D&B photo shoots and press prepared me for it all. I’ve definitely got my stern face and walk down pat!

Haha unfair advantage! I feel like there’s a really obvious crossover here with the music side of things and cooking. Your attention to detail is obvious in the intricacies of your productions, the various layers and subtleties in your tracks, do you think that gave you an advantage when approaching the technical side of cooking?

Oh 100%. I think it’s undeniable really, that link between music, food and art. I think watching it back on TV actually made it even more obvious to me. I love the science behind food and I love the science behind music as well, and I explore that every day in my job as an artist and sound engineer, and you can see that in the food I cook as well. There’s definitely a mind-set that can be applied to both professions and a creative process which is easily transferable between the two. It’s just art really, isn’t it?

If you look at the very modern Michelin-style plating, that’s straight-up art. It’s not just dumping food on a plate, the thought process that goes into plating food like that is not just about the plating, or just about the recipe… The recipe can be affected by how you’re going to plate it up, and vice versa really.

Some of your own dishes you created on the show and the way they were arranged on a plate were simply stunning. How did you get to that level, were you completely self-taught? 

Yeah totally self-taught. The internet and social media have opened up a whole new world for us in that sense haven’t they… I think 15 years ago you would’ve had to have gone to places like Le Gavroche or other Michelin-star restaurants just to be able to see and be able to experience that kind of food and level of technique. Nowadays, especially with the rise of Instagram, you get to see a lot of food trends and how people are approaching certain techniques, how they’re plating, what styles are popular, etc. It’s quite similar with music in that respect actually, things are just so much more accessible these days.

I’ve certainly never been wealthy enough to go to Michelin restaurants anyway, and I don’t think you necessarily have to to get inspired anymore. You can get access to so many recipes online now, as well as all these great TV programs centred around food. Obviously you can’t taste the food, but you get access to the mentality behind it and that’s definitely an advantage.

 

For sure! So did you have viewing parties with your mates and fam throughout the series?

Yeah, and at first it was a bit nerve racking to be honest, because you do really put yourself out there doing this kind of thing, and I wasn’t sure how people would react to me being on TV, as the world of Twitter and stuff can actually be pretty nasty. But I’ve been really lucky in that everyone’s been really nice and supportive, and the support in the scene has actually really floored me. I’ve had long chats with Groove and people like Andy C, Goldie, Fabio and loads more have all been getting behind me… All these guys I’ve always looked up to in my career have been showing their support, it’s been amazing.

I did get the odd person saying I must be a professional chef online, and I took those types of comments as compliments really! What was great was random D&B boys jumping in going ‘what, you’ve never heard of Survival? He ain’t got time to be a professional chef!’ And that kind of support was amazing man.

What’s really striking is just how many people in the music industry are actually really into food as well, and super passionate about it…

Yeah true, John B just launched his own hot sauce too didn’t he?

Yeah perfect example. I think it goes back to what we were saying before – that creative process is just easily transferable, and it’s definitely something I’m going to try and explore further.

Were the other contestants aware of what you do for a living? Did you get John and Greg skanking to one of your tunes at any point?

Haha, not quite! But early on in the series Greg made a comment saying I wasn’t very good looking and that at least I’d found something I was good at, and people randomly started Tweeting him my tunes and I honestly loved that! D&B is a small scene in the scheme of it all and I’ve got some really loyal fans and seeing that kind of stuff really warmed my heart.

But yeah I didn’t really want to make a big deal out of what I did. I didn’t want to be a gimmick and just didn’t want it to be about anything other than food.

We need to talk about that pea medley … 4 different ways to serve peas which blew everyone’s minds.. some of your dish ideas have been truly impressive, did you play around with ideas at home and go into the kitchen always knowing what you were going to tackle?

A lot of the time you’re working to a brief so that’s what drives it really. That dish actually came about from me trying to use the shells of peas though… One thing I think is really important about cooking (and eating) is not wasting a thing. That’s something we go by in my house a lot, and we really try to have as minimal food waste as possible, and really that dish came from that.

It’s funny though, I was out with Artificial Intelligence the other day and they were having a bet about whether people would want to talk to me about my tunes or peas… and peas won out! Most people just wanted to talk about peas or take pictures for their mums.

 

I love that out of all the dishes you’ve cooked, I had to pick the peas to talk about…

You know what? I feel like this is going to be something that follows me for a while… and I’m happy to talk about peas if that’s what people want to talk about?

Haha, give the people what they want mate! It’s time to leave D&B behind for D&Pea… Highlight of your MasterChef experience then?

The feedback from William Sitwell about the pea dish was obviously incredible, and that was really early on as well. I was genuinely taken aback and shocked by it, because it seemed like such a simple thing, but I decided to run with it and it paid off.

And obviously the crab dish I did for John and Greg I was really proud of (bar the little bit of shell left over!). There’s quite a few highlights really… Spray-painting those mini little death stars at Ormer Mayfair was nuts too…

But honestly the love and support I’ve felt from everyone in the scene, as well as from the general public, has been really overwhelming and one of the greatest highlights of the whole experience for me.

 

Have you kept in touch with your fellow contestants much?

Yeah definitely, Saliha was actually the first person I met when I walked through the doors, and we were in it from the very first second of the experience, right to the end. So we’ve been close throughout the whole thing. We had a Whatsapp group going between a few of us finalists as well, so whenever an episode was on we’d be swapping laughs!

On to music… the forthcoming album on Dispatch is finished. Has it been a long time coming?

Yeah it has actually… As I do both SCAR and Survival, both albums were pretty much on the go at the same time. So I was writing some of the Survival stuff well over a year ago, but that was done and dusted before filming MasterChef thankfully. It takes over your life and it’s very difficult to think about much else! But with scheduling and the challenges of getting stuff on vinyl these days meant the album has taken a bit to get out there…

Yeah vinyl’s a tricky one isn’t it…

It’s honestly so frustrating. I’ve stopped doing it for the most part.. A lot of the time Ant asks if I want my tracks on vinyl and most of the time I just want the tunes to get out. I bought vinyl from when I was 11 or 12 years old and it’s great to have something tangible for your work, but as an artist what’s actually a bit more important is actually having output. Ultimately we all want to make a living as well, so it’s a fine balancing act. It’s easier for more established artists to skip vinyl, but I guess it’s a bigger deal for more up and comers… I do remember my first test press 23 years ago though and it was really special… God that makes me feel really old! It’s all in the pipeline anyway, there’s a lot of music coming from me this year!

Can’t wait to hear it all! How did you approach the album conceptually?

I suppose I just really wanted to write a drum & bass album – just D&B, and that’s exactly what it is. Obviously I really did want to make it different from the SCAR project, and that’s been quite a conscious thing, not have the two cross over too much. We’ve got our mind-set for SCAR, and I have my own mind-set for Survival.

How do you split your mind creatively between the two?

Well we’re talking about two very different labels and sounds. I think Ant has done a great job of really driving that brand and making Dispatch a sound, and I’ve been working with him for a long time so I really wanted to make the album sit in that Dispatch bracket, and also a bit more dancefloor-oriented than some of my previous output…

SCAR on Metalheadz is a really distinct sound as well. Being in the studio with Mike and working on SCAR material – he’s got some seriously amazing ideas and is such an integral part of what we do, so when he comes up bringing certain sounds and samples, he’s very much got Metalheadz in mind, so I guess tracks find their home naturally in that respect.

There’s a new SCAR EP coming up on Headz too right?

Yeah, funnily enough it’s the follow up to our album which came out last year! That’s how long vinyl is! Haha! Very excited about that one though, we’ve got a remix from 2 Bad Mice on there as well, which is amazing considering they actually signed me to Moving Shadow/ Partisan in 1997… So here we are, 20 years later and we’ve got a remix of theirs! I’ve come full circle which is just a mad thought.

 

What’s more nerve-racking – serving up dishes in the MasterChef kitchen or tracks to Goldie and Ant TC1?

Hahaha, well I certainly don’t get phone calls from John and Greg at 2 in the morning going “THAT’S FUCKIN’ AMAZING, THAT’S FUCKIN’ SICK” you know?

Haha, classic Goldie!

And it’s not even because of the time difference and living in Thailand either, he’d do the same bloody thing if he was in the same time zone too!

To be honest with you though, one of the scariest things I’ve ever done was that first day on MasterChef – walking up and giving them that plate of food… I genuinely was absolutely shitting myself, and it’s not even because of the cameras, you block them out in a way. It’s just that you’re putting yourself on show, and it doesn’t even really sink in until you’ve watched it back on TV and think shit, 5 million people are watching this…

Absolute madness! So where to from here – you’ve obviously thought about combining your love for music and food?

100%. I’m doing a pop up event on June 10 that sold out in less than 24 hours, which is mad. I’m doing that with Rosie Llewellyn who runs a series of pop-ups and supper clubs, and it’s a tasting menu of a lot of the dishes – or variations of – the dishes I’ve cooked on the show. There’s also a small gallery space there and Chelone Wolf is coming down and doing some food pictures and a bit of artwork based around food, and we’ve got some really cool playlists to top it all off with a nice little sound system, so it’s very much a food/music/art type experience, and something I really want to take forward. Just announced another date on the 8th of July as well! Will definitely be arranging more events like that anyway so keep an eye out for more details.

I’m also doing a food stall at the Hospitality Garden Party as well which should be great! More details about that coming soon as well, and also doing an HG Walter butcher and chef masterclass in June, so a few things on the horizon!

I think the whole food/ music/ art crossover is something that hasn’t really been explored that much… Everyone loves music, everyone loves food, and if you think about the thousands who applied to go on MasterChef – 2 out of the 3 finalists are actually in the music industry, so there’s an undeniable link between the two really, and that’s something I really want to explore.

If you could cook a meal for anyone in history dead or alive who would it be and what would you cook? 

Keith Floyd, 100%! It’d have to be something really easy so I could sit down and drink a bottle of wine with him… He’s probably one of the first people I watched on TV who really inspired me and I loved watching his programs, I think he’s an amazing presenter. Maybe a good beef stew, nice mashed potato, couple of bottles of red wine and a great chat… God that’d be amazing!

Any final words?

Just a huge thanks to everyone who’s been supporting me throughout the whole series, it’s been an incredibly humbling experience, so cheers!

Follow Survival on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / SoundCloud

Book a spot at Spinning Plates to get a taste of Steve’s dishes from the show on July 8th – limited spaces available

Photo by: Chelone Wolf (Follow on Instagram / web)