MacKenzie Smith is the executive chef at Black Dolphin Inn and the blogger behind Grilled Cheese Social. (Photo: MacKenzie Smith)
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hi, hi! I’m MacKenzie Smith and I’m an ex-Brooklynite currently living in sunny New Smyrna Beach, Fla.! Before I moved down here to be the executive chef at Black Dolphin Inn, one of the top bed and breakfasts in the South and ranked one of the top 10 beach BnBs in the world(!), I had spent the last 6 years having way too much fun in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where I started my blog Grilled Cheese Social, a website dedicated to — you guessed it — the grilled cheese sandwich!
GCS isn’t just a blog to me though, it’s a lifestyle! It’s opened so many doors, allowed me to meet so many amazing people, and has granted me the ability to travel all around the world doing grilled cheese pop-ups! I’ve made my GC concoctions everywhere from tiny coffee shops in California to the insane Basque Culinary Center in Spain. My blog has also helped me become the sandwich expert for about.com and has gotten me into the world of professional food styling and photography.
Not many people know about this because I wasn’t allowed to give out many deets at the time, but one of my days as ACME Studio’s food stylist was spent frying a million sunny side eggs and delicately laying them all over a certain Victoria Secret model’s body. It was a very strange day, especially since I basically had to make her an egg-yolk bra in front of about 20 people. Still to this day, every time I fry sunny side eggs at Black Dolphin, I sort of giggle to myself and think about that experience. And yeah, I’m almost 30 and still laugh about private parts. Sorry not sorry.
Leftover pizza topped with crispy eggs and Sriracha. (Photo: MacKenzie Smith)
Oh, oh, oh! And If I’m not cooking, you can find me surfing at NSB Inlet, walking my two doxies at the puppy beach, or wrapped up in a pile of blankets with my nose in a sketchpad drawing stupid ugly cartoons that scare most people.
What first got you interested in food and photography? Where do you draw inspiration from?
I was about 6 months into my masters program at Columbia University when I realized that a career in Gerontological Counseling Psychology was probably a bad decision for my own mental wellbeing. As you can imagine, that sort of lifestyle is pretty depressing so I started my blog as a way to get some creativity and happiness back in my life. I literally had no idea what I was doing but I became so inspired because I absolutely loved it. Setting up photos, playing with colors and ingredients, and learning how to work my camera was like a new challenge that I became obsessed with.
Luckily for me, my friend Christian Torres, who’s a baller NYC photographer, came over one day and literally changed my photo game. He taught me about the importance of natural light, what the heck depth perception was and all that other fun camera tech-y stuff that I had always unapologetically ignored. After I finished my masters degree, I interned at Saveur Magazine and learned so incredibly much about food photography and digital media from Helen Rosner and Anna Stockwell. They’re my food photo angels for sure.
Bacon, fried chicken, and waffles sandwich drizzled with a Sriracha syrup. (Photo: MacKenzie Smith)
How do you take your photos (with a camera or phone)? What are your favorite photo editing tools and/or tips for taking exceptional food photos? Give us the scoop!
Back before iPhones became amazing, I used to take all my photos on a big clunky Nikon D200. I still use that camera for grilled cheese recipes on my personal blog but about 98 percent of everything you see on my Insta is taken on my iPhone. I just upgraded to the iPhone 6s and let me tell ya, it’s the bomb! For editing on-the-go, I recommend VSCO and Afterlight all the way. When people ask me how I make my phone photos look pretty, I always tell them “ALWAYS wipe your camera lens before you shoot and look for good, natural lighting! Think about symmetry, shadows and all that stuff you learned about composition in art class growing up. Practice, practice, practice!”
Mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil. (Photo: MacKenzie Smith)
Who are three of your favorite Instagrammers? What do you like about them?
My man @jermjohnston. He is my angel boy and he’s my Insta-partner (sorry I had to do the pun). Not only did we meet on there, but we started our own local New Smyrna Food Insta-Blog called @NSBBites. He’s into food and photography just as much as me, but he’s also a professional surfer so you can imagine how beautiful all his pics are. Look at his feed and you’ll feel all warm and tropical … and sometimes hungry.
My bestie from undergrad at FSU @prozac_morris because she kills it with the memes and constantly makes me laugh so hard that I spit out of my drink. If you follow me on Insta, you probably see me regramming all her food memes because they are literally the best things on earth.
My e-gal-pal @gilliehouston! She’s my fav because she eats all the food from all the spots that I miss so much! I feel like I’m living vicariously through her beautiful photos and eating fests and I am so grateful for it. Gillie, can we Skype while eating together?
What are some of your favorite spots to eat in Florida?
My favorite spot to eat in Florida is definitely my mom’s kitchen! J/k. But I’m actually totally serious. On the other hand, my fave restaurant here in New Smyrna Beach is AA Garden Fusion. It’s a family-run Vietnamese restaurant that really gets me. Of all the things I miss most about NYC, it’s definitely the Asian food, and I feel like this restaurant encompasses it all. And when I have a chance to get out of NSB, I always head to Orlando where it takes me about an hour to choose between slowly eating a beautiful locally sourced Italian feast at Prato or ignoring everyone while shoveling 200 pork belly tacos into my dome from Tako Cheena.
What do you enjoy about Instagram compared to other online communities?
Honestly the thing I love most about it is how interactive it is. I love that it’s all laid out right in front of me, how it’s so real feeling, how it’s being constantly updated, and the community that I’ve become a part of because of it. I also met my boyfriend through Instagram so that’s a really great perk as well!
MacKenzie Smith and her boyfriend Jeremy Johnston. (Photo: MacKenzie Smith)
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten recently?
The BF and I went on a little East Coast tour for one of his surf contests and, of course, I used it as an opportunity to turn our trip into a FOOD TOUR! We went very very hard in Charleston, S.C., because we’d spent the previous week geeking out on Sean Brock’s Mind of a Chef on Netflix. We obviously loved everything we had at Husk but to be honest, Minero was where it was at. I ordered every single thing except about two items on the menu, despite the concerned look on our waiter’s face when he realized that it was just the two of us eating. And Oh. My. God. Just thinking about the green chorizo taco with big potato strips and green onions makes me weak in the knees.
A plate of green chorizo taco with big potato strips and green onions at Minera. (Photo: Jeremy Johnston)
If you could throw a dream dinner party for any three people — living or dead — who would they be and what would you cook for them?
I don’t mean to be totally emo here, but I’d have to say that I’d invite my Grandma Meme, my Grandpa Poppy and my Uncle Bro, all of whom have passed away. And I wouldn’t cook for them, nah definitely not … I’d have Bro and Meme cook for me while Poppy and I watched COPS on a little TV in their old kitchen. I’d ask my Meme to cook her Sunday Supper which always consisted of fried chicken, collard greens, tomato gravy, rice, hoe cake, mashed rutabagas and carrots, and marinated cucumbers. I’d have my BroBro make me his bacon and butternut squash mac ‘n’ cheese and his Thai frog legs. I miss them and their food so much so it would definitely be the best day of my life. Have they created a technology to make that happen yet? Definitely need to set up a Google alert for that.
Epic fried chicken sandwich with bacon, tomatoes, colby jack, egg, romaine, ranch, and blue cheese on a pretzel roll. (Photo: MacKenzie Smith)
What’s the best dish you’ve ever made or the dish that you’re known for?
I’d have to say grilled cheese, duh! My go-to, or what my brand is known for, is Hook’s 3-year cheddar from Wisconsin with homemade bacon jam and pickled jalapeños on buttery Texas toast. It’s sweet, savory, spicy, crispy, gooey, and orgasmic… it basically encompasses everything that is good in the world.
And last but not least — what’s your favorite food (if you had to pick one)?
My favorite food is most definitely CHEESE! Back when I was a cheesemonger at Depanneur in Brooklyn, I took full advantage of taste testing everyday. I actually probably overdid it and if the owners are reading this, I’m very, very sorry for eating all your cheese all day everyday! Thank you for not firing me because of that. And thank you for letting me take the pastries home at the end of everyday. However, I do not thank you for the 10 extra cheese pounds I gained from that job.
Grilled macaroni cheese sandwich with braised short ribs. (Photo: MacKenzie Smith)
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Meet more ‘grammers from our past takeovers: