Pull up a chair 

The loading dock door opens with a flourish. Outlined by the light cascading from inside, Mackenzie Piccarreto appears, wearing black Dansko clogs and a denim Hedley & Bennett apron, the ampersand clear against its dark blue embroidery.

Piccarreto, a Greece native, moves quickly but steadily in her commercial kitchen, eyes flitting back and forth between a black binder of laminated recipes and the vibrant beet hummus she’s building. The silver nail polish on her fingers flashes with each turn of the knife. Her energy is fluid, meticulous.

It’s easy to see Piccarreto grew up intuitively cooking those ‘grab whatever you can from the pantry and throw them into plastic Tupperware’ type recipes.

“They were never good,” she said. “It’d be like banana muffins with basil and paprika. Really terrible things, but I was confident and liked playing around.”

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ABBY QUATRO.
  • PHOTO BY ABBY QUATRO.
In 2016, the self-taught chef moved back to Rochester from New York City and began keeping a blog, Mackenzie's Table, to share food recipes. Around the same time, she attended the virtual Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN). Cooking and wellness collided for her, and Piccarreto embarked on crafting recipes that were always whole-food and health focused, but not — as she’s quick to insist — dogmatic.

“I do care about ingredients, but that doesn’t mean I’m thinking about them in everything I eat,” she said. “I’ve always wanted the food I make to be nourishing but also really delicious.”

Her blog slowly grew, but it wasn’t until she went to F.L.X Table, the seasonal communal-dining experience in Geneva, for her 30th birthday that the goal of cooking for others sparked.

Piccarreto liked the idea of highlighting locally sourced food and gathering strangers around a table over a shared meal, but wanted to do it more in her style. She started doing pop-up dinners at Living Roots in their smaller private tasting room before later moving to Jackrabbit Club, Good Luck’s event space on Anderson Avenue.

“I said I was going to do it until tickets stopped selling,” she said. “And they never did.”

After the pandemic hit, Piccarreto transitioned into booking private, in-home dinners. To this day, she’s mostly based on referrals and word of mouth, doing about four to five events a month.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ABBY QUATRO.
  • PHOTO BY ABBY QUATRO.
Crosby Lane, the second half of her business, is a virtual whole foods bakery that opened in 2021. Named after her childhood street, Crosby Lane is direct-to-consumer, offering mostly vegan and gluten-free desserts made with real ingredients and sweetened with things like dates or honey.

“Wellness has evolved over the years,” Piccarreto said. “I’ve always come from a place of zero deprivation, not dieting, just always having good quality foods. There can be so many reasons to eat besides fuel, like nostalgia and joy.”

The response to Crosby Lane has been especially kind amongst people with severe dietary allergies who have found their favorite treats reimagined in a way they can enjoy — for instance, her raw cinnamon buns are available at Pearson’s Market & Café, which opened in the former Glen Edith space on Elton Street.

More of the chef’s community can be found on her Instagram, @mackenzies_table. Much of Piccarreto’s business comes from the site, where she entertains 13,000 followers with photos of local produce, bright orange and green vegetables stacked atop plates from dinners, or videos of her concocting recipes.

One of her many followers was Jessica Dorofy, who recently hired the chef to cook for her birthday party.

“I host often, and this event truly was the best time I’ve had and that was in large part because of Mackenzie’s Table,” Dorofy said. “It was such a relief to not worry about this part of event planning. We still talk about her roasted carrots.”

While the internet can also be a dangerous, or triggering, place when it comes to the wellness scene, it’s clear to her followers—Dorofy included—that Piccarreto’s feed seems to offer a break from the onslaught, with delicious (and healthy) flavors taking precedence.

“Without (Instagram), I don’t think I’d have a business,” said Piccarreto. “The landscape has changed a lot. I love the connection of it, but then there’s the side of obligation.”

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ABBY QUATRO.
  • PHOTO BY ABBY QUATRO.
These days, Piccarreto is looking to the future, and what’s next not only for Mackenzie’s Table, but Crosby Lane. In her sights? Possibly, her own space.

“There was something magical about strangers coming together, sitting at a table, and caring enough about food to come to a surprise menu,” she said. “I miss that energy. I want to somehow get that back.”

With Crosby, her hobby became her work, which can be hard for anyone. The recipes can feel monotonous, even as the work is rewarding. Still, the kitchen beckons. With all its quirks: the whoosh of a ginormous refrigerator opening in front of you, the meditative rhythm of knife hitting board.

It’s in these moments Piccarreto is her childlike self again: not measuring or worrying, intuitively testing a new idea, following the jolts of inspiration and joy.

Mackenzie’s hosting tips:
With the holidays coming up, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed between all the dishes, meals, and expectations. While the night can be elaborate, Mackenzie wants to enjoy herself, too — here are some of her tips for doing just that:

  • Be prepared. Mackenzie suggests prepping whatever you can ahead of time, saying: “I don’t want to be in the kitchen all night.” Do what you can ahead of time to enjoy the day.
  • Like Mackenzie, many of us can get caught up in making everything perfect, but the chef says, “I don’t need to fully impress. Anything you can do, people will be happy with because we’re all together.”
  • The most important thing is to be with family,” Mackenzie says. While something might go wrong or burn, remember other people probably won’t care as much as you do.

Jessica L. Pavia is a freelance contributor to CITY. Feedback about this article can be sent to [email protected].
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