It’s hard to believe that MacKenzie Smith is still only 33 years old. For the past 10 years, the founder of Grilled Cheese Social has shared her passion for comforting, delicious – and of course cheesy – food with the world.
She’s styled food-themed photo shoots for celebrities such as Jimmy Fallon and Giselle Bundchen, and counts USA Today and pop singer Meghan Trainor among her catering clients. And then there’s this fun fact: she was one of the first people to post cheeseboards on Instagram.
Now, as the executive chef of Black Dolphin Inn, several appearances (and awards) on the Food Network, a cookbook, and tens of thousands of social media followers later – she and husband professional surfer Jeremy Johnston are expecting their first child this spring. We caught up with MacKenzie to talk about her food empire, family, and pregnancy cravings, at her second home, The Black Dolphin Inn.
How It All Began
MacKenzie moved north to pursue her master’s degree at Columbia University in counseling psychology after earning her bachelor’s in the same field at Florida State University. Mackenzie Smith started her blog, Grilled Cheese Social, in grad school as a “creative distraction.” Her knack for capturing her NYC culinary adventures led to a job with Saveur Magazine right out of grad school, a job as a cheesemonger and her own food styling and catering business.
Coming Back to Florida
It wasn’t her plan to move back to Florida, but it ended up making everything fall into place. It began with her uncle. He is the original reason MacKenzie began cooking and was ultimately the reason she moved back to Florida.
“My uncle is the reason that I cook. He was always the chef at my dad’s hotels and was a true genius that taught me everything.” When her uncle unexpectedly died 4 years ago, MacKenzie moved back to Florida to be with family. She continues to miss him everyday as she follows in his legacy.
Having since put down roots in New Smyrna Beach, “the coolest thing about moving back to Florida is that my mom and Mother in law have been able to come to all the big doctor appointments”.
When She Knew She “Made It”
Despite a published cook book and social media accomplishments, it wasn’t until she appeared on the Food Network that she felt validated. MacKenzie has appeared on “Guy’s Grocery Games” once a year for the past 4 years; and she had won two of them! “Interesting enough, I had agreed to do the 2020 show before I knew I has pregnant – and (during filming) I had a meat aversion.” Unlucky for MacKenzie, this was the first time she ever had to cook a meat centered dish. MacKenzie admits the entire show she was gagging and the “scent of the meat and watching it pounded made her want to die.” Looking back she laughs, “somehow they edited the show where they never showed me gagging and never talked about me being pregnant.”
It might not have gone as planned but she can officially tell her baby, she made her first appearance on the food network!
Most people can relate to morning sickness, but how does one do it when their career is cooking?
MacKenzie admitted the “first trimester was rough. At the Black Dolphin Inn we have an open kitchen, so there is no hiding anything. I would just be gagging all the time while cooking it and having to hold it together”. MacKenzie explained that during her First Trimester she didn’t have “morning sickness,” but rather an afternoon sickness” she lovingly referred to as her “pregnancy hangover.”
And that wasn’t the only change she encountered during that First trimester. Her taste buds also changed! All of the recipes created during that period, MacKenzie had 20 people taste test to confirm that they were “actually good.” Where can we sign up?
One thing is for sure, she and husband Jeremy, loved watching her body change for her growing baby inside. It was Jeremy who took the unplanned picture of her in her bikini (later used for her announcement) because of the beautiful glow she radiated at that moment they shared at the beach.
Sharing The News With Family
MacKenzie initially kept it a secret, because she and Jeremy wanted to wait for their weekly “Family Night” to make the big announcement. Sunday Family Night is “the one night where all of our family members are not working. Both sides of the family usually come together, and the couple thought “this will be the perfect opportunity” to surprise everyone.
As Sunday night rolled around, MacKenzie admitted “I kind of gave it away. I don’t bake – I’m really bad at it. I can cook all day long, but I’ll mess up a box cake. I texted the moms, hey don’t make dessert, ‘I’m going to make dessert tonight’ and they knew something was up.”
MacKenzie’s idea was to make “a blue and pink marble cake with king cake babies (a family inside joke), so no matter how you slice it, you would find a baby”.
*MacKenzie accidentally ordered 12,000 king cake babies on Amazon, so every chance her and her family get, they toss king cake babies into “anything!”
Sharing The News With Fans
To announce the pregnancy, MacKenzie “had an idea of building a cheese board on my belly, because cheese boards are a big thing. And I was going to say baby on board – cheeseboard pun.
When it was time for the gender reveal, the chef “knew I had to do a food related reveal. But I didn’t want to do a grilled cheese because I thought you could see it from the outside. And I was like what is a cheesy hidden surprise that I could share how to do it, that’s also delicious. A baked brie! So blueberry for boy and raspberry for girl. We made both of them, and surprised everyone by cutting into the raspberry”! You can find the delicious recipe here.
Lemonade is how it all started. “We went to a street fair on Flagler, and I had a hand shaken lemonade. I got one, and after that, I had to have a handshake lemonade (made by Jeremy) twice a day.”
“I cannot get enough of lemon and citrus! Anything thats remotely lemony; lemon pasta, lemon bars, I probably ate 300 oranges this pregnancy. I like goat cheeses that have a lemony essence to them.” One recipe every week is lemon based.” Whether you are pregnant or not, Mackenzie’s Blueberry Lemon Ricotta Bars With Lavender Shortbread and Olive Oil and Lemon Cous Cous Salad are just two, that we can’t wait to try at home.
“Guess what, I’m a mommy blogger now!” And the fans are here for it! MacKenzie says she gets more engagement on her pregnancy related photos than any of her recipe photos. Her fans have been sharing advice and tips on eating while pregnant, but when it comes to food, this star chef has it under control.
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding cheese and pregnancy. “I’ve gotten messages asking if I am eating soft milk cheese. ‘Yes I am, its pasteurized – we’re not In France! There is no chance of getting listeria from pasteurized milk cheese!”
“If you are an American and eating soft cheeses – its pasteurized milk. Unless your getting it fresh from the farmers market, or someone whose not going through the FDA, you’re not going to have the risk.” But if you are concerned, MacKenzie suggests talking to your doctor.
Another misconception is, no eating lunch meat, because of nitrates and listeria. MacKenzie suggests sticking to nitrate free brands such as Boars Head and Applegate. To take it a step further, warm up the meat and make a panini or grilled sandwich!
Baby Girl Grilled Cheese Social is due May 27th. We can’t wait to circle back with MacKenzie to see how our favorite chef incorporates her love of food into her daughter’s life.
For more on parenthood, check out Mamas & Little Boys: The Sweetest Bond.