“I had the vision that I wanted to do some amazing things surrounded by culinary,” Maxcel Hardy, a self-proclaimed “chef for the stars,” tells BLAC.
Born on Detroit’s west side, Hardy grew up in a food-loving family and took that passion into his career. In his early teens, Hardy’s family moved and he attended Wharton High School in Tampa, Florida, where he joined their culinary arts program. Due to his growing skills in the kitchen he was presented with a scholarship to attend Johnson & Wales University in Miami.
After graduation, Hardy built his brand – Chef Max Miami, Chef Max New York and Chef Max Los Angeles – and served his creations to R&B and hip-hop artists, actors, professional athletes and dignitaries. His catering company specializes in bringing flavors from all over the world – Caribbean, Asian, French – all mixed with American flair and prepared kosher if necessary. From 2009 to 2014, Hardy was the exclusive full-time chef for New York Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire, and the pair co-authored a cookbook, Cooking with Amar’e: 100 Easy Recipes for Pros and Rookies in the Kitchen.
But with his career at its height, Chef Max says it was time to come back home. “It’s always been a vision for me to come back to the city.”
Hardy teamed up with UAW-Ford to form a culinary program to teach young adults and children a healthier way of eating and living. This month, he opens an Asian and Caribbean restaurant at the Detroit ShipYard, a shipping-container development in the Cass Corridor, called COOP.
He’s also partnering with local poultry farms in the city with the goal of getting Detroiters back in the habit of going to where the products are, straying from chain grocery stores in favor of farm-to-table practices. And, practicing what he preaches, Hardy bought a plot of land on the east side to start a garden; he’ll be working with high school students to show them the ways of a chef in and out of a kitchen.
Keeping busy is a challenge, he admits. “To wear so many hats outside of being a chef – worrying about food cost, worrying about labor cost – the business side the world doesn’t see is a tough part about being a chef,” Hardy says. “It’s a long, grueling day – a 12- to 16-hour work day for most chefs.”
Hardy stays motivated, but he’s seen others falter. “The downside to being a chef, the real side to being a chef, is that there’s a lot of alcoholics, there’s a lot of drug addicts. There’s a lot of chefs that don’t have families because they work so much.”
To stay on track, Hardy keeps mentorship at the forefront. He has “three P’s” he shares with protégés: “prepare, plan and purchase” – that’s planning your meals out the week before, preparing your meals in a healthier way and purchasing from trusted vendors.
In the next five years, Chef Max hopes to open four more restaurants. He is also in the process of starting a new foundation called Spark the Change, which he hopes will bring together 25 chefs to open the dialogue about the concerns inner-city families face regarding law enforcement.
“It’s easier to talk about hard issues while breaking bread over a good meal,” he says.