During COVID, the nation’s relationship with food has been interesting, to say the least. COVID carbs are a thing, the allure of the fridge as our lockdown companion is strong, and Postmates now knows our gate codes by heart. What better way to pair our feedings than with a good binge-watch or two – or five? Content creation and viewing are up. A recent study showed that the average American is streaming eight hours of content a day and binge-watching three shows per week. That is a lot of content. Making life much easier in this one-click age is YouTuber Max Miller, who masterfully combines our favorite COVID pastimes of eating and video watching into his viral show, Tasting History with Max Miller. Each week, Max gives viewers a look at a historical recipe and explores its origins.
Max is no stranger to the entertainment business; his early start was in musical theatre and voice acting (you must hear his Iago). He would eventually come to work for Disney Studios but, as for many in the film industry, would find himself without a job because of COVID. What was to start as a fun video hobby has turned into a full-time gig with benefits, Tasting History’s audience has grown to over 585k subscribers, with 14 million total channel views and counting. Max has been recently featured in major outlets that include Today.com, Digital Trends, and the New York Post.
The idea started before COVID hit, but my being furloughed gave me the opportunity to work on it full time. It also was my saving grace, because it gave me something to do other than sit in front of the TV and watch hours of old BBC mystery shows.
The show has taken off, to Max’s surprise, with a loyal and rapidly growing audience. He recently celebrated his one-year anniversary with the show with a fun, fan Q & A. But when did he first start to realize he was becoming YouTube famous?
Last June, a few days after my video on Garum went up. My subscribers doubled in a few hours, and a couple of days later I hit 100,000 subscribers.
Each video is part history lesson, part comedy, and part food preparation, culminating in the final tasting denouement. It is masterfully edited and Max’s sincerity and aw-shucks attitude make his presentation a refreshing breath of air in the sea of growing content. Each video can take him from 30 to 80 hours from preparation to uploading. In this age where people can make a lucrative living on YouTube, everyone wants to know what the secrets are to becoming a YouTube star overnight. Max’s advice?
I do not do anything consciously, I just keep making content that I would want to watch, and I figure if I would want to watch it, someone out there would too. Upload consistently! If you are not consistent, then you won’t get seen.
Having spent time with Max, I can attest that there is no stereotypical YouTuber star mentality, Max is a gentle giant. His take on YouTube fame?
I do not think there is one type of YouTube famous. It depends on the content, audience, and on the personality. Since I only started this after lockdown, I rarely leave my house, and in my house, I am not YouTube famous. My cats don’t care.
Max’s love for his cats is rivaled only by his love of history. Tasting History is a result not from food, but from the history he covers.
I come for the history and stay for the recipe. Rather than the other way around. When I became obsessed with The Great British Bake Off, I loved how they tied history and food together in the first episodes, so it was a foray into baking for me.
As a kid, Max wasn’t spending his time in the kitchen. Cooking and baking were not in his early skill sets and being raised in Phoenix, being a foodie was limited to local fare.
I grew up mostly eating at home. On the weekends my dad would do the cooking. We ate a lot of Mexican and Japanese food and barbecue every Sunday night. I think Phoenix is a lot like most cities, some restaurants are great, some are not. What makes Phoenix special is its number of Mexican restaurants and the types of Mexican cuisine you can get. Tex-Mex, Sonoran, Baja, etc.
The food he covers on the show could not be more different. He focuses on dishes from the Medieval and Renaissance eras, Ancient Greek and Roman times, and other traditional foods from around the world. Not your usual fare. In a truly fascinating episode of Tasting History, Max chats about the remnants of food that were found at the last meal at Pompeii in their version of an Ancient Rome fast food restaurant, a thermopolium. The popular fare? Snails – or for the fancy foodies – cochleas. Simply fried with pure salt and oil and basted with silphium, garum, pepper, and oil. Yum. Also, during this episode, Max translates some of the ancient graffiti found on the walls of these fast-food joints. “Apelles the Chamberlain of Dexter, a slave of Caesar, ate here most agreeably, and had a screw at the same time.” Many of these ready-to-eat food places also had adjoining rooms that were rented by the hour. The more you know. And where does Max find his recipes in the first place?
There are a lot of old cookbooks that I use, but when it comes to the very old or obscure dishes, I must rely on ancient writings about the dish. Even if it is not an actual recipe. Then I recreate it the best I can.
And the ingredients?
A few spices, especially in the early days of the pandemic, were incredibly hard to find. For grains of paradise, I had to reach out to a farmer in Ghana to mail it to me. Now you can get it on Amazon as next-day delivery.
You never know where his trip around the historical globe will land, each week is something wildly different. Where does he get his inspiration?
Sometimes it is a recommendation from a viewer, sometimes it’s me flipping through my collection of cookbooks. It really varies. Sometimes the dish is secondary after I have chosen a bit of history I want to cover.
The more episodes you watch, the more you realize how much food has shaped our history. No one is exempt from the allures of a morsel.
One fact that shocked me was that King Louis XVI was caught during the French Revolution because he had to stop for some brie and wine. The history of Europe changed because King Louis needed a snack.
Max’s favorite period is the Edwardian times – but wasn’t it all turkey legs, porridge, and moldy wine?
Perhaps you are thinking of an earlier King Edward. The Edwardian times I’m thinking of are the early 1900s, when food and clothing were extravagant, at least for the wealthy. I don’t want to live in any time period where I’m not wealthy.
His recipes and content are for everyone. He does not lead with his sexuality but does not hide from it – perhaps a glimpse into the future of LGBTQ representation where our orientation is a part of who we are but is not our only definer. His companion show, Ketchup with Max and Jose, shows us a bit more of Max’s personal life as his fiancé Jose interviews him about past and upcoming Tasting History episodes, viewer comments, Pokémon, their ever-present cats, and whatever else comes up.
With his place in the digital spotlight, Max recounts some of his favorite theatre moments and whether he will return to the stage. Perhaps a Tasting History musical?
One of my favorite memories was getting to sing with Kristin Chenoweth in New York, in Music in the Air. It was just so cool to be on stage with her! Some of my favorite roles are Toby in Sweeney Todd, and Freddy in My Fair Lady – you are barely on stage, and you get to be the third to last bow! I don’t know, I’d like to think so, but if this year has taught me anything, I don’t know what I’ll be doing in the future.
If you would like to try your hand at tasting some history, try Max’s modern take on a historical recipe featuring Everlasting Syllabub – a creamy dish popular from the 16th to 19th centuries:
Everlasting Syllabub Recipe:
ORIGINAL 18TH CENTURY RECIPE (From The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy
by Hannah Glasse)
To make Everlasting Syllabub take five half pints of thick cream, and half a pint of
sack, the juice of two seville oranges, or lemons, grate in just the yellow rind of three
lemons, and a pound of double-refined sugar well beat and sifted. Mix all together
with a spoonful of orange-flower water, beat it well together with a whisk half an hour,
then with a spoon fill your glasses.
MAX’s MODERN RECIPE
- 1 1/4 pint (590ml) heavy cream (or double cream)
- 1/4 pint (120ml) of a medium sweet wine (white port, sherry)
- The juice of 1 orange
- The zest of 1 large lemon (or 2 small)
- 1/2 pound (227g) powdered sugar
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- Mix the cream and sugar together in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved.
- Whisk in the remaining ingredients.
- Whisk either by hand for 30 minutes or with an electric mixer until you form stiff
- Serve or refrigerate for up to three days.
Photo: Riker Brothers
Last modified: April 5, 2021