MacKenzie Smith didn’t plan on becoming a grilled cheese guru, or a two-time Food Network champion. While pursuing a master’s in counseling psychology and social justice at Columbia, she found herself buried under papers, therapy, and the general monotony of day-to-day life; she needed a creative outlet. A friend suggested she write a food blog, and, after googling, “What is a food blog,” Smith decided to give it a try.
As a full-time student, Smith knew her subject needed to be easy, yet tasty. Her lifelong love of grilled cheese provided the obvious solution—but this was just the beginning.
Smith secured a position as editorial assistant at Saveur magazine after graduating from Columbia, as well as a job at a Brooklyn cheese shop. Her deepening cheese knowledge sparked a love for the industry, which spilled into her blog. After her post “How to Make a Grilled Cheese in a Toaster” went viral, Smith saw her name appearing on websites like Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post. Following the success of her recent cookbook, Grilled Cheese Social: Super Fun Recipes for Super Fun Times (Story Farm, 2018), Smith is now considering opening a cheese-focused cooking school. We caught up with Smith to talk Food Network competitions, nostalgia, and the best grilled cheese fixings.
On people’s love for grilled cheese
I think the love is a mixture of nostalgia and modern creativity. Most likely everyone’s mom or grandmother made it for them, so it’s a comfort food. And, as we grow older, we learn about flavor pairings and different kinds of cheeses, and you’re able to up your grilled cheese game.
On becoming a monger
A lot of cheese shops at the time were very pretentious. I wanted to bring that friendly attitude to the counter. Everyone at my shop considered themselves “the nice cheesemongers.”
On grocery shopping
I wish I could say I was more organized before going to the grocery store, but in reality, I get super blazed before I leave. Whatever looks good, I buy.
I’m already freestyling in the kitchen every day—I feel like it helped me win Guy’s Grocery Games. I don’t even know what I’m making until I get there. Maybe being a procrastinator makes me think smarter and more quickly in the moment.
On her favorite grilled cheese
My favorite go-to at most of my events is smoked cheddar, candied bacon, and pickled jalapeños. It combines sweet, salty, spicy, and savory.
On following her dreams
I think about this all the time: If I’d had this grilled cheese idea and never carried it out, I’d probably be seeing patients, still not feeling fulfilled, and just going through my day-to-day. Now, I travel with my husband all the time, we make stuff all day long, and it’s so fun.
On discovering the world of cheese
I trained to be a monger and that was my launch into, “Oh my God, there’s a fancy world of cheese out there that I can be a part of?” I instantly became obsessed.