Max Hardy, 40, Dies; Helped Bring Chef-Driven Cuisine To Detroit

Max Hardy, 40, Dies; Helped Bring Chef-Driven Cuisine to Detroit

Max Hardy

Max Hardy, who helped bring a new level of chef-driven yet accessible cuisine to his native Detroit, and who was widely considered among the most promising of a young generation of Black culinary stars, died on Monday. He was 40.

His publicist, David E. Rudolph, announced the death but did not provide a cause or location. He said Mr. Hardy had been in good health as recently as the weekend.


Though he was born in Detroit, Mr. Hardy moved with his family to South Florida when he was young. As a budding chef, he drew on the region’s Latin American influences, as well as his mother’s Bahamian heritage, mastering dishes like jerk pork ribs, fried plantains and ackee and salt fish, the national dish of Jamaica. He married those influences with a deep love for South Carolina Lowcountry cuisine like shrimp and grits, fried fish and hoppin’ John.

After more than a decade as the private chef for the basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire, followed by a few years working in New York City kitchens, he returned to Detroit in 2017 to open a string of high-profile restaurants, including River Bistro, Coop Caribbean Fusion and Jed’s Detroit, a pizza-and-wings shop.

He worked constantly and with an entrepreneur’s energy. He had his own lines of chef clothing and dry spices. He partnered with Kellogg’s to bring plant-based items from the company’s Morningstar Farms brand to restaurants like his. And he appeared regularly on Food Network programs like “Chopped” and “BBQ Brawl.”

Until recently, Detroit was a fine-dining desert, with few options beyond fast food and chains. But in the 2010s a wave of young chefs like Mr. Hardy began to alter the city’s image.

“He had kind of a reputation as a personal chef for a very prominent N.B.A. player, but I found that he came to back to the city with very little ego,” said Kiki Bokungu Louya, a chef and the executive director of the nonprofit Detroit Food Academy. “He was really willing to learn who was already doing the work on the ground.”

He founded his own nonprofit, One Chef Can 86 Hunger, which spreads awareness about food insecurity and healthy eating, especially among young people. During a 2019 government shutdown, he offered free lunches to furloughed federal workers; during the pandemic, he opened pop-up food kitchens to feed at-risk Detroit residents.

“When I can go into a kitchen and create meals for 500 or 1,000 people, it fuels me and gets me outside of the day-to-day restaurant grind,” he told The Detroit Free Press in 2021. “It’s actually peace for me to cook for a couple hundred people and give back. And it feeds the soul. It feels really good to do it.”

In 2017 The New York Times named Mr. Hardy one of “16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America” (Ms. Louya was one of the others), not just for his skill in the kitchen but also for his willingness to push the boundaries of what defines a successful fine-dining chef.

“Growing up in Detroit, you didn’t see chefs and restaurants elevated like that,” he 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.”


Maxcel Hardy III was born on Dec. 5, 1983, in Detroit and moved to Tampa, Fla., as a child. His first love was basketball, but an injury in high school ended his dreams of a serious career.

His high school had recently opened a culinary arts program, and he soon found himself under the mentorship of its director. He worked at a Ruby Tuesday franchise after school and won a scholarship in his senior year to continue his training at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami.

By 21 he was the executive chef at a Miami-area country club, and within a few years he had his own luxury catering company. From 2009 to 2014, he was the full-time personal chef for Mr. Stoudemire, who played mostly for the Knicks in those years. The two published a cookbook, “Cooking With Amar’e,” in 2014.

Survivors include his mother and two daughters.

Mr. Hardy’s first restaurant in Detroit, River Bistro, closed after a few years, but by then he had opened two more. He was working on a third, specializing in fish, when he died.

“My goal is to always open restaurants in the inner city to help employ the community while providing great food,” Mr. Hardy told the website Eater Detroit in 2022. “I find that though it may be easier to open in a larger suburban area, it’s typical and would only serve myself.

“Food is at the center of everything,” he continued, “and I want to create restaurants that help sustain communities in need. I also try to show you can open successful restaurants in your hometown.”


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