Celebrity Chef Maxcel Hardy talks nutrition, a new cookbook and
bringing the culinary arts to inner city schools.
Chef Max, as he is fondly known,
is a young entrepreneur, pro-
fessional chef, instructor, foun-
dation owner, and now, cook-
book author. His new cookbook
co-authored with New York
Knicks’ power forward Amar’e
Stoudemire -of whom he is
personal Chef – is chock-full
of delicious recipes, blending
French, Southern, Asian and
Caribbean traditions the whole
family can enjoy. Himself also
the product of a working class
household, now endeavors to
spark the imagination of young
people by bringing the culinary
arts to inner-city schools.
I was recently delighted to chat with this incredibly hard-working and
talented young chef about (amongst other things) creating opportunities
for a new generation.
To learn more about how you can help click here—
Donna: What was it that got you so interested in food?
Chef Max: Food has always been a focal point in my family. Growing
up we always had people over and food was always the focal point
of the evening. My mom and dad, aunts, uncles were all great cooks.
By high school I was a chef.
D: Why did you want to bring culinary arts to a Harlem high school?
CM: I had dinner with one of the instructors of the high school and we
talked about the school being less fortunate than many of the other
high schools in the city. I went to visit the school and found that they
really didn’t have much going on. I walked into the gym and discovered
the basketball team didn’t have shoes or jerseys. So we helped them out
with that. We can’t expect the kids to be successful without the right
equipment and things they need.
After that, we thought about a culinary program which could teach some
life skills and bring something tangible that the kids could use in their lives.
D: Being that you’re into both basketball and food it worked out
CM: Yes I was able to combine both my passions and loves.
D: I understand that you teach Wednesday mornings at Opportunity
Charter School? How long is the class?
CM: I teach Wednesdays and Fridays, 7 Am to 12noon.
D: You really do have a full schedule.
CM: Yeah, it’s a little crazy right now.
D: Tell me what goes on during one cooking session with the kids?
CM: Class starts at 7 o’clock. I do a roll call, make sure the kids have their
uniforms, chef hats and aprons on, we do a recap of last week’s class and
then we get into the course outline for the day. I do a lecture based on
whether it is Caribbean, Italian or another region we will cook foods from.
The kids are broken up into teams. One team is responsible for the salad,
another for the entre, and another for dessert. We then begin cooking the
recipe we learned from that region.
At 10:30 we clean up, have lunch then do a recap before going back
to the school.
The kids are learning different cuisines, back and front house restaurant
duties such as bus boy, server and chef; pretty much everything you would
learn at a culinary school.
D: I love that you have included “healthy eating” as part of your curri-
culum. Were you always interested in nutritious cooking?
CM: Cooking in a healthy way and using the healthiest, the best and freshest
ingredients has helped to take me to the next level. In the past few years the
industry has become much more health-conscious.and this is a continuous
learning process for me.
D: How do you make healthy food for a young palate and how is it
different from cooking healthy for a professional athlete?
CM: It’s kind of simple to go from frying to baking chicken tenders. You can
hide some of the things that kids hate in the food. Add some vegetables to
their macaroni and cheese and meatballs; it’s a matter of taking what they
like and hiding vegetables in it.
D: They are probably impressed with the fact that they’re eating
brussels sprouts and actually liking them.
CM: In the beginning of the program I did a Q & A of what kids like/didn’t
like and the list included things like micro greens, parsnips, rutabaga,
and by the end of the term they have had all of them. Many of the kids
have not been exposed to these different foods.
We try to teach the kids about these foods so they’ll go back to their
parents and get them on board. Many times we don’t use a new food
or ingredient because we don’t know how to cook it.
D: Yes, that’s really a smart way to go.
D: Could you tell us about some of the “strategic food shopping”
techniques you teach your students at Opportunity Charter School?
CM: I ask the kids how much they normally spend on lunch and they
say about $6 or $8. Then I ask them, how can we feed a family of four
on $6-$8? We calculate, two pounds of chicken, a bag of brown rice
and a pound and a half of broccoli can feed the whole family and that’s
under eight bucks… It takes time, preparation and planning. Smaller
portions are healthier especially if you have nutritious foods on
D: What is the most important thing to pass on to a youngster
learning to cook and looking to enter the culinary arts industry?
CM: First of all it would be that cooking can be fun and it can make people
happy. It’s also a key life skill. You have to communicate well and trust
people on your team. You get to meet a lot of people and possibly travel
the world… But I always say if it’s not fun then don’t do it. It can be
challenging at times but fun.
D: Who were the folks who believed in your passion and helped to
CM: In high school I fell in love with culinary arts. I met the chef who
came to our school to teach, he helped me to blossom and go on to
culinary school. While in culinary school I worked with my uncle who
is a chef, I did many jobs with him. They were both very inspirational;
and helped to get me through culinary school.
D: With all the hats you wear and tasks on your “plate” — chef,
instructor, foundation owner, entrepreneur, caterer, cookbook
author — what is the one thing you enjoy most?
CM: That would be creating and working for the foundation. It’s so
important for me to give back. So many kids just need a little push or
encouragement to get to the next level. Somebody gave it to me so I
have to do my part and pay it forward.
D: The farm-to-table trend and the purchase of your own farm
(what your client, Amar’e Stoudemire recently did) seems an
ideal way to gain control over what goes on the plate, and into
your body. Was that your idea?
CM: Actually, Amar’e bought the farm and I manage the farm for him.
One of the reasons he bought the farm was to do more of a farm-to-
table deal. We can grab hold of what we eat, use the freshest ingre-
dients and make sure that everything is coming from the farm and
going straight to the table. We get to see where it’s coming from and
how it’s grown. I think it’s the trend right now. There’s nothing fresher
than food right from the farm.
D: I live near a Whole Foods and they pride themselves on having
the freshest foods. And every Friday we have a farmers market
that comes into the neighborhood. The kale from the farmer’s
market which was picked the day before tastes fresher and lasts
much longer than kale purchased from the supermarket.
CM: That’s the best way. I’d rather go to the farmer’s markets on the
street than to the super market. In the end it’s really fresher.
D: What are your thoughts on how New Yorker’s can increase
access to the freshest vegetables and fish?
CM: New York is special because you have a lot of farms upstate and
nearby in New Jersey. You can research some of those farms and
drive a little ways out there. Westchester has a lot of farms and green
markets in their towns. Chelsea does a green market on Wednesdays
and Saturdays; [in the city] there’s a lot of “pop-up” stuff that goes
on like that.
D: Whose idea was it to do the cookbook?
CM: I was talking to my agent about doing
a cookbook of memoirs with all of my
different clients, their travels and their’
favorite recipes. My agent said, ‘well Chef,
you’re not famous enough to put out a book
yourself but you have a client that’s pretty famous. Why don’t you piggy-
back off that?’
I approached Amar’e with it and he was psyched. It worked because since
I met him he’s been doing a lot of his own cooking and when I’m in the kit-
chen he’ll come over and ask, ‘how can I help, what can I do?’ He loves to
cook with his family and friends and he can now show me his culinary
techniques and skills. It was really fun.
D: I saw the promo video for the book and it does look like you all
are having fun.
CM: Yes, sometimes I let him take over in the kitchen and I sit down and
watch basketball. We have a good relationship. It’s been really great doing
the book with Amar’e.
D: Does “Chef Stoudemire” have recipes in the book as well?
CM: He has some favorites that he grew up on. He’s perfected the steak
and eggs and he does a great green juice.
D: Was there an experience you can relay that led you to the “One
Chef Can 86 Hunger” campaign?
CM: My best friend and I were talking about some of the struggles we had
[growing up] and how my brother and I had to sometimes share one meal
between us. When I was in high school I saw a lot of students come to
school malnourished. It’s right in our backyard. I find it amazing we live in
the richest country and this is happening. One Chef Can 86 Hunger aims to
raise funds to get into the inner cities and let people know what we do. We
can feed kids on the week-end and make sure they have meals. We’re trying
to create programs and get into all the cities across the US.
D: What’s needed now to help?
CM: We need to spread the word that we need to “86 hunger”. We can’t
create these community projects on our own, we need some help. We’re
making our rounds and visiting other cities like Miami and Detroit to 86
hunger. It’s not just monetary, we could use help in spreading the word too.
D: You’ve created a life that has enabled you to intertwine your
passion for both food and basketball; how did you think you
made this happen?
M: Hard work, dedication and staying humble. Success comes if you’re
doing those things. I do feel blessed and by the grace of God we’ve been
able to do all these things and we will continue to strive.