Max Miller is cooking on all cylinders.
When Miller was furloughed from his film distribution job at Walt Disney Studios, due to COVID, he decided to pursue his recent passion: food. That resulted in “Tasting History,” his popular YouTube channel that explores international cuisine — and the history behind it.
Miller, 37, answered some questions about “Tasting History” and about turning his idea into a full-blown enterprise.
When did you first realize you had a keen interest in food and its historical context?
Relatively recently, actually. Until six years ago, I’d never even boiled an egg. Then, I binged a season of “The Great British Bake Off” and I was inspired to try my hand at some of the things they were baking. I went from never touching an oven straight to baking a Battenberg Cake, and rather successfully, if I might say. One thing I loved about the show was how they discussed the history of the bakes, and it was actually those stories that inspired me to take up the spatula.
Do you have a favorite culinary style or era regarding food?
Definitely the Edwardian Era. During that first decade of the 20th century, chefs from France, England and America were in a battle to outdo each other with more and more outrageous creations. Photos of the dinner tables of the Rockefellers or the British Royal Family from the time would astound anyone today — and many of the decadent pastries one might see in the window of a French patisserie today come out of this era. There were other periods that did the same — the Tudor Age for instance — but the dishes of the Edwardian Era are more accessible to today’s tastebuds.
How did your passion translate into developing “Tasting History”?
The idea actually came from a friend at work. I had been bringing in my historical cooking for a long time when, at last year’s Christmas party, she suggested I film myself making them and discussing the history. I didn’t even see it as a series or really get ramped up making episodes until quarantine, when I found myself in need of something to occupy my time. YouTube is a great equalizer. Whether you’re a show with a full crew and budget or just a guy in his tiny kitchen with a cheap camera, everyone starts with 0 views and has to grow from there. That said, if the Food Network is interested, I’m happy to chat.
‘Until six years ago, I’d never even boiled an egg.’
Who are your influences?
Many. The teaching styles of both Alton Brown on “Good Eats” and Bill Nye on his PBS show in the ’90s influenced the way I like to teach; more through stories and interesting tidbits rather than pure facts and figures. I also give a lot of credit to Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, who used to host “The Great British Bake Off.” When they talked about food history on the show, they did so through wit and wicked puns — a style I emulate, though without nearly as much panache.
How much research goes into a typical episode of “Tasting History”?
It can vary wildly. With most European dishes, where I have a lot of knowledge going into the subject, I’d say there’s between 10 and 15 hours of research done before I start writing a script. But when I cover a topic I’m less familiar with — foods and eunuchs of the Ming Dynasty in China, for instance — I could spend 40 or 50 hours doing research for a 15-minute episode. What takes the longest is finding primary sources. While history books are a great place to start, I like delivering quotes from actual historical figures whenever possible; I feel like it transports you to the past quicker than anything else.
Is there one overriding “theme” vis-a-vis the questions and comments you get from viewers?
“When will you do … (fill in the name of a food)?” The show has found a largely international audience, and I’m happily bombarded with requests to do certain dishes from all sorts of eras and cultures. People are justly proud of their history and their cuisine and want to see it represented.
Are you a fan of the Food Network and/or Cooking Channel?
Oh, yes. “Cutthroat Kitchen” was always my favorite. And, while most of his shows are on Fox, I love anything with Gordon Ramsay — though all the cooking shows I watch on those networks are less to learn, and more to be entertained. To learn about cooking, I have to click over to PBS.
Tell me a little bit about your upcoming holiday-themed episodes
I plan on covering a 17th-century pumpkin pie quite unlike the one that you might find on your Thanksgiving table, but just as delicious. I’m also going to show people how to make George Washington’s recipe for eggnog as well as a Medieval gingerbread. Then the piece de resistance will be a Victorian Christmas Pudding; perhaps the trickiest dish I’ve ever made.