Who didn’t spend more time than usual playing around with food during the pandemic? YouTube star Max Miller went from barely being able to boil an egg to becoming a culinary star who delights a captive audience.
Miller, creator and host of the wildly popular food and history show, Tasting History on YouTube, grew his audience to almost 820,000 subscribers during the Covid pandemic. The charming and out former entertainment executive and musical theater actor also happens to be the perfect small screen host.
Miller is a native of Phoenix, and went to ASU before moving to LA to pursue a career in film distribution for Disney. Inspired by The Great British Bake Off's historical segments, and also by his own interest in ancient times, Miller devised a show that explores the origins, ingredients, and methods of putting together dishes such as pirate guacamole circa 1697, or the hamburgers of Ancient Rome known as Talking Cows. And did you know there was a Medieval predecessor to Turducken known as Cockentrice? It’s all utterly fascinating if not always appetizing — but it often is!
Miller puts around 40-80 hours research and work into each episode and it’s a wonderful way to escape current times via 20 minutes of tasty and sometimes titillating time travel. Do you know what kind of snacks the ancient world served in its brothels? Miller does!
Tasting History has been profiled in America's Test Kitchen, Chowhound, Digital Trends, PopCulture.com, Foodsided, New York Post, Rachael Ray Show, Today.com, UPROXX, plus Miller has a recurring regional segment with Arizona Midday and will release a cookbook in 2022. We caught up for a chat about how it all came together.
How did Tasting History happen?
Max Miller: I’ve always loved history since I was a little kid and I learned to love cooking and baking, specifically after watching the Great British Bake Off and just absorbing that show about seven years ago. And once I did that, I would start to bring in my baking trials to work with me, I couldn't have them at home because I would just eat them. So I’d bring them in to work. And I would tell my coworkers a little bit about the history of whatever I baked, little lectures. And some of them actually found it really kind of interesting. And one of them said, You should put this up on YouTube, people will enjoy it. And I had been thinking a little while about wanting to do a YouTube channel and a couple of months later I put out my first episode. And I stick with it because people would be mad if I didn't. I really enjoy the research especially, I get to do what I would kind of be doing anyway. Now I just have to do it on a schedule.
If you could time travel and really go back and have one of these dishes, what period would you be drawn to?
MM: Anglo-Saxon England is probably my favorite period in history. However, I don't think the food would be particularly good. It was basically just big chunks of meat being roasted and fairly dull bread. So I think when it comes to food, I would like to go back to the Regency period, Jane Austen, that kind of 1790s-1800s time period. The food was starting to be more international. The flavors that were affecting at least England's food were starting to come from India and from the Americas. And they were really big into the French influence at the time. And France at this time was the cuisine capital. This is the birth of that time period in France. So in England, you're getting a little bit of everything. And everything was very ostentatious, so I only want to go back in time if I could be rich.
Do you ever worry about grossing out viewers with some of the ingredients such as the Cockentrice, the pig and the rooster sewn together?
MM: Yes! That was definitely one where I was like, Oh, people aren’t going to like this. But for the most part, I feel like people are very understanding. The people who watch my channel have a higher education level. You know, it's not their first foray into history. And so they come into it with a bit of understanding that this is not what we would eat today. But it was a different time when there was no concept of animal rights, except in some parts of the Far East. There was no concept of veganism. When I do say four or five episodes in a row that are all meat I'll start getting people like, Hey, throw us a vegetarian dish. And so I do think there's plenty a vegetarian dishes out there. But what's funny is they tend not to make it into history’s cookbooks. If you find a cookbook written before 1800, it's going to be 95 percent meat or at least have meat in it. Vegetables were poor people food. They didn't typically get eaten by the upper crust. And if they did it was just, you know, grilling an item on the plate. You don't really need a recipe for that. So it's hard to find those older recipes. But I do have an old Russian recipe for beets coming up, so I am looking forward to that one.
You're a Phoenix native. Did that influence your view of history?
MM: I did love Arizona history, I was obsessed with cowboys growing up and I was also obsessed with the Civil War especially, but Europe was always my draw and I think that's actually just due to my mother. My mother was an English and humanities teacher at a high school in Scottsdale. And so what she tended to teach was English history, English literature, English architecture and music. And so that's kind of what I latched on to. So then my father loves Japan and so I also got a big helping of Japanese history and culture.
What was it like growing up in Phoenix and coming out as LGBTQ?
MM: Growing up in Phoenix was great. I was in the Phoenix Boys Choir for a long time and always involved in theater. I had a very accepting community but I didn't come out until college. I went to Arizona State and after my freshman year, I came out to my parents and they didn't care, they knew. I was so fortunate in that I was never confronted with any real homophobia. I mean, it's everywhere, of course, but not like someone who really has to struggle with it in their family or their community. I was very, very fortunate. And so I was always involved in some way in the gay community, in Phoenix, though mostly simply because of the people that I was around, I was in musical theater and classical music. So a large portion of the people that I were around were gay. So I was always part of the community.
I understand you left Disney to make Tasting History full-time?
MM: I was working in the Walt Disney Studio, specifically the movie studio, and I was working in distribution, getting our movies into movie theaters and all the things that go with that. And I loved it so, so much. I loved every minute of my job, the people that I worked with. So leaving it was actually a tough decision. But I was furloughed last year when the pandemic struck. So that's one reason why I was able to really double down Tasting History and get an episode out each week. I had nothing to do for the last year otherwise. And so when Disney called to say, Hey, time to come back, I had to make that decision. There is no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision.
You started the show two weeks before the pandemic happened. What have you learned during that time?
MM: What I've learned most in the in the last year is: you can plan all you want, but it's not going to turn out that way. You know, whatever plans you end up making in your life are just that. Plans are almost never what actually ends up happening. I mean, years ago, I would have never thought that I would be cooking for a living because I barely boiled an egg. I guess I would say I would never have imagined that I could make a living doing it. I had my whole life planned out the next 30 years at Disney and then retire. I'm very much a planner. And at almost every turn in my life, those plans are not what actually happens. And this year, more than any I think in the recent past, that's been the case with absolutely everyone in the world. Nobody planned for this. And, you know, good or bad, whatever happened, it surely wasn't what they expected.
To be delightfully surprised, and even learn something about food and history, tune into Tasting History with Max Miller on YouTube.