Detroit Celebrity Chef Maxcel Hardy Dies Unexpectedly at 40. Was Planning a New Restaurant In Time for NFL Draft.

March 05, 2024, 2:05 PM by  Allan Lengel

Detroit Chef Maxcel Hardy

Award-winning Chef Maxcel Hardy, who made his mark in Detroit and the national scene, and who appeared on popular TV food shows including "Beat Bobby Flay" and "Chopped," died unexpectedly Monday night at age 40. 

"Chef Max was always optimistic, he was a kind guy," said publicist David Rudolph, who confirmed his death.

"He was the kind of guy who was always pushing forward," he said, noting that Hardy was looking forward to opening "What's Crackin" a seafood restaurant on Livernois in time for the NFL Draft 2024 in April.

Two sources tell Deadline Detroit he suffered what appeared to be a heart attack while eating dinner at a Midtown restaurant Monday night. 

The Detroit News first reported his passing. 

The Detroit native made his mark in Detroit, Miami and New York, and as a chef for NBA players. He utilized his Bahamian roots with southern cooking skills and his training as a French chef to whip up tasty dishes.

Hour Detroit named him Restaurateur of the Year in 2021. And the New York Times in 2019 listed him as one of "16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America."

In noting what impacted his life, the Times wrote that "he grew up in a historically black neighborhood in Detroit. His mother's Bahamian roots and his own teenage years in Miami. Dreaming of a basketball career, pivoting to culinary school, and winding up as personal chef to Amar'e Stoudemire."

Growing Up

“Growing up in Detroit, you didn’t see chefs and restaurants elevated like that," Hardy told the Times. "It was Motor City, not Food City. Now I can invent a dinner based on the recipes of Hercules, a slave who was George Washington’s personal chef, and I can have my restaurant, and I can teach kids in the community. There are so many more ways to strive for greatness as a chef.”

In the Miami area, he worked as a chef at restaurants and a country club and eventually started "Chef Max Miami," which caters to celebrities and athletes. 

He made his mark as a chef in New York and Miami and returned to Detroit to open River Bistro in Detroit's Rosedale Park in 2017. When it closed in 2019, he said in a statement publishe in the Detroit Free Press:

“Regretfully, and after sincere thought and consideration, we’ve decided to set our sights on new goals. The past two years operating River Bistro have been amazing and would not have been possible without the support from the Grandmont-Rosedale community. Our neighbors welcomed us with open hearts, and for that, we will be forever grateful."

Chef Maxcel Hardy

He went on to operate Coop Detroit at the Detroit Shipping Company on Peterboro in the Cass Corridor,  a Carribean-fusion restaurant, which serves items like jerk chicken wings and ribs and plantain chips. He also operated Jed's Detroit, a pizza and burger carryout at Seven Mile and Interstate 75.

He was a personal chef for NBA player Amar’e Stoudemire. In 2014, the two co-authored a cookbook titled: "Cooking with Amar'e: 100 Easy Recipes for Pros and Rookies in the Kitchen." During an interview on the podcast, Detroit in Black and White, he said he once flew from New York to Los Angeles to cook chicken and waffles for players after a game. Another time in Miami, he said he complied with a request from the prince from Dubai to serve sushi for a party on a naked lady.  

The unexpected death impacted Detroiters.

"It's shocking, the guy had it all, " said Adolph Mongo, host of the podcast "Detroit in Black and White," who had Hardy on his show in March of 2023. "He was a great chef, his food was delicious and he had a hell of a personality. He was looking forward to the NFL draft and opening a restaurant."

Mongo asked him during his appearance why there aren't great soul food places in town, to which Hardy said:

"Big moma stopped cooking."  

Hardy also battled hunger with his non-profit, One Chef Can 86 Hunger, and offered culinary classes to youth. He was also part of a group of chefs, "Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen for Good," who provided food to the homeless. 

Staying Fit

He was conscious of being fit.

"He was losing weight, he had lost weight," said Rudolph, his publicist. "I remember the stress of the pandemic, when we were all putting on weight at that time,  I know he worked real hard to get it off. He got back into basketball and all that kind of stuff. He was in a fit condition."

Rudolph said "he was looking forward" to opening his new restaurant on Livernois. "It's been under renovation for a while. That was the next project he was looking forward to. He was also looking forward to more collaboration with other Black restaurateurs." 

In his interview on Detroit and Black and White, Hardy said he didn't want to get pigeon-holed only as a soul food chef. But he said he still had a desire to open a barbecue joint.

"I want to do a old school barbecue spot with a pit that's in the wall, and you walk in and smoke everywhere; just like real old school barbecue like you'll get in Alabama, Georgia."

Hardy is survived by two daughters and his mother. 

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