Detroit’s own Maxcel Hardy will compete in the upcoming season of Food Network’s BBQ Brawl.
In the show, famed chefs Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, and Eddie Jackson will mentor and coach 12 barbecue masters who will compete against each other to win the coveted title of “Master of Cue” and become the Food Network's resident barbecue expert of the year.
Reflecting on his time competing on the show at the Star Hill Ranch in Austin, Texas, Detroit native Chef Hardy says, “It was fun to really just be able to get out there and… showcase my talents [and] skills with some of the top barbecue guys in the country. It was truly an honor.”
Hardy was formerly the personal chef to NBA superstar Amar’e Stoudemire until 2014. Today, he is the head chef and owner at COOP Detroit, a Caribbean and Asian fusion restaurant in the Detroit Shipping Co. food hall inspired by his culinary origins in Miami, where he encountered Haitian, Cuban, Asian, and Dominican cooks, and “a melting pot of cultures and cuisines.”
Hardy’s cuisine has deeply personal roots; his mother is from the Bahamas and his father’s family hails from the South. Hardy says he became interested in cuisine after witnessing his family express love through food and seeing how food can “put a smile on [your] face.”
He also cites the “unique and eclectic” city of Detroit as a culinary influence. “[Detroit has some of the best barbecue] that no one really highlights… And to represent the city that I’m from was truly a win-win for me. Detroit is a melting pot of different cities. A lot of people migrated here so you get a little bit of that Southern, you get a little Alabama, you get a little Georgia, you get a little Creole, and so you get a little bit of everything in the city. So I think being able to highlight that has truly been amazing.”
Like many restaurant owners, Hardy struggled during the pandemic. “It has been tough,” he says. “I mean we [chefs and restaurant owners] never really saw this coming. Not being able to show love and create has been a challenge for some folks, [it’s] been a challenge for me.” Additionally, he says it was difficult for Hardy to lay off his staff, but ultimately “we made it through, and now [I’m] just looking forward to reopening and getting things back up and running. It was really tough for a lot of chefs in Detroit [during the pandemic].”
He closed his Caribbean-soul restaurant River Bistro in Detroit's Grandmont-Rosedale Park neighborhood in 2019 after two years in business, citing several factors, including a long street construction project that choked off traffic. But Hardy has big plans in store for the near future. Last year, he opened a Detroit location of the Ohio-based Jed's pizza and wing franchise on Seven Mile Road and Riopelle Street. And this year, he plans to open two restaurants: seafood boil spot What's Crackin' and Honey, a downtown Afro-Caribbean restaurant.
He also says he plans to reopen COOP at 100% capacity on July 1.
To enjoy working at a restaurant, you have to cherish human connection, he says. “I love humanity,” Hardy says. “I love people, I love being able to help and give back, and my way of giving back is through food.” Being a chef, Max Hardy believes, is an honor. “The message [behind my food] is pretty much passionate love."
Season two of BBQ Brawl premiers at 9 p.m. EST on Monday, June 14 on the Food Network. Hardy promises that season two will offer “a lot of excitement.”
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