It was during his junior year in high school that Maxcel Hardy got his first taste of what would become his passion and livelihood. Max was a gifted basketball player at his school, but hurt his knee that year. That same year his school switched their home ec classes to culinary arts classes and there Max was, “5th period, every day,” learning at first how to bake and then sell the cookies and cinnamon rolls to his classmates. Max and his culinary arts teacher hit it off. Max would come in early before school to help his teacher set up the bake sale. His teacher also helped Max get his first restaurant job where Max learned a great deal more than baking. Max learned about salads, the versatility of potatoes, and how to cook ribs. His love for culinary arts had to take a back seat a little longer though. As a senior, colleges were looking around for basketball players and Max got an offer from Johnson and Wales in Miami. Max loved Miami and his school. His basketball future didn’t look so promising though. “I played freshman year, then realized, I’m not going to make the NBA.” Max was at a crossroads. He chose culinary arts, and his friends and family, and soon Grandmont Rosedale, will be better off for it.
Max did not regard his choice of culinary arts over basketball as the easy way out. Hardly. As an 18 year old who made a mature and life-altering decision, Max also demonstrated what has become as distinct as his gift for cooking: his ambition and work ethic. At 18 Max set himself a nearly impossible goal: to be an executive chef by the time he was 21.
Max worked in some of the top restaurants in Miami and his dedication to culinary arts grew. Max also learned the business end of restaurant ownership. Ordering food and keeping costs manageable is difficult at best. While still at college, Max got a job cooking at the PGA National Resort and Spa where he learned a great deal. The resort was 1 ½ hours away by train. Max took this trip every weekend for months. Even for Max, this schedule proved too difficult to maintain. Max brought his new skills to a hotel and golf club closer to his school. Soon though, Max became a father and realized he had to another important decision to make. He had earned his associate’s degree, but decided that in order for him to support his daughter and continue learning culinary arts, his best bet was to dedicate his time to learning the business by working. At this point Max was just one year away from his 21st birthday. His deadline for making executive chef was approaching.
A Jewish synagogue in Miami was in need of an executive chef. Max saw it as his chance. The application process involved cooking in front of and for the interviewers. The rabbi, the rabbi’s wife, and the Mashgiach, the kosher supervisor who makes sure the food is prepared kosher, were all there to watch Max cook. The veal, baked apple, and several side dishes were done and looked perfect. Max was then asked to make matzo ball soup, a staple of Jewish cooking. He had the chicken stock ready, some vegetables were cooking, and then Max started on the matzo meal and eggs. Max had never made matzo ball soup before but figured matzo balls were a lot like hush puppies. He had the thought to research a little help, but his phone was dead. He had to rely on what he knew about food. He dropped his first attempt at a matzo ball in the soup and saw that it didn’t swell like he thought it should. Then Max thought to separate the egg, adding only the yolk to the matzo meal at first and then aerating it with the egg white. He dropped this one into the soup and watched it expand beautifully. When he placed the bowl in front of the rabbi, the rabbi looked at the soup, picked up the matzo ball, and threw it against the wall where it splattered. Max stared at the mess and then back at the rabbi, stunned. “That’s the best matzo ball I’ve ever seen!” the rabbi cried. “If they bounce, they’re no good. If they splatter, that’s a good matzo ball!” Max was hired and began his career as Executive Chef Maxcel Hardy, age 21.
From there Chef Max worked at several high end restaurants, resorts, and clubs serving athletes, celebrities, catering weddings, and continuing to hone his culinary skills as well as his knowledge of the business side of running a restaurant. And wherever Max cooked, business was good and got better.
While he was working as an executive chef at the Crown Plaza Resort and Hotel, Chef Max got a phone call from Amar’e Stoudemire, the New York Nicks basketball player, asking Max if he’d like to come to Los Angeles and be Amar’e’s personal chef for two weeks during training. Chef Max didn’t hesitate. On the last day of training, just after Chef Max booked a much needed vacation trip to the Bahamas, Stoudemire asked him if he’d move to New York City to be his personal chef. Chef Max put off the vacation and packed his bags. For the next six years, Chef Max worked with Amar’e not just on cooking, but also on a cookbook: Cooking with Amar’e: 100 Easy Recipes for Pros and Rookies in the Kitchen. Chef Max also started a culinary school and One Chef Can 86 Hunger, a foundation whose mission it is to “educate people on maintaining healthy and cost effective eating habits.” The foundation also raises funds to support the education of aspiring young chefs.
While in New York, Chef Max met Devita Davison, Detroit’s own FoodLab Marketing and Communications Director. The two began collaborating on the Made and Grown Series of private dinners on urban farms in Detroit and Chef Max thought, “Maybe it’s time for me to come home.” Chef Max grew up around Meyers and Grand River and noticed that a lot had changed in Detroit since his early days growing up on the northwest side.
Chef Max’s dad’s family still lives here and his best buddy bought a house in Grandmont Rosedale so he found himself hanging out in the neighborhood. Soon enough, Chef Max started looking around Grandmont Rosedale for a place to start cooking. He became a member at the Grand River WorkPlace, and his vision for a restaurant in Grandmont Rosedale began to come together. While Chef Max uses the WorkPlace to get the business end of his restaurant ready, it’s also a great place to get to know the Grandmont Rosedale business community. Besides, the spot Chef Max had his eye on was just down the street. Look for Chef Max’s River Bistro, specializing in Caribbean and soul food, to open soon at 18465 Grand River.
Never one to just have one project in the works, Chef Max is also starting an urban, community garden on three recently purchased empty lots on Monte Vista, the street where he grew up. His Coop Restaurant will be one of the members of a food hall on Peterboro Street in Midtown. He’s also working on opening up a high-end, African-Caribbean restaurant near the new Little Caesars Arena. He’s looking to start a culinary school on McNichols and currently mentors young, aspiring chefs. He’s been back and forth to Dubai and Africa, learning and cooking at world food festivals, and leaving his mark. He adopted a primary school in Africa which he supplies with shoes and books, while also working on the infrastructure for a kitchen.
His a jet set life for sure, but Chef Max is fitting nicely back into his hometown. “I really look forward to the days I’m here in Detroit,” he says. Welcome back home, Chef Max!
For more information about Chef Max and his many projects, check out http://chefmaxhardy.com/
Written by Kathy Garrett