Instead of waiting for your “big break”, just break it yourself. — I spent years hoping that someone would notice me, or just give me a shot, but what I’ve learned with producing Tasting History is that sometimes, you just have to do it yourself. Granted, I was fortunate that the channel took off as it did, but even if it hadn’t, it’s the creative outlet I’d been hoping someone else would give me for years. Since I made myself that outlet, it gives me much more of a sense of control which is necessary sometimes.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Max Miller, Host of Tasting History.
When Max Miller arrived at his office’s 2019 Christmas party with homemade historic baked goods in hand, a colleague suggested he start a YouTube channel to share his historic goodies with a wider audience. Though Max had made a practice of surprising his coworkers with historic breakroom snacks methodically researched and created in his kitchen, at the time, he didn’t give the idea too much thought. Then, the pandemic hit and Max was furloughed from his job at Walt Disney Studios. Faced with a sudden glut of free time and a citywide stay-at-home order, he returned to the idea of a YouTube channel.
“I wanted to tell people right away what they’d be getting: Food and History,” the Phoenix-born, Los Angeles-based creator shares. “‘Tasting History’ seemed like a more interesting name than ‘Food and History,’ but in the first episodes, I didn’t actually taste the food on camera!”
As it turns out, Max wasn’t the only one excited about exploring and recreating historical food on camera. Within weeks, his videos were reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers who wanted to learn more about historic dishes like Garum, an ancient Roman condiment, medieval cheese, Civil War bread pudding and more.
For his part, Max’s favorite part of ‘Tasting History’s growing audience has been the chance to learn more about different cultures. A partnership with the Taste of India Food Festival to recreate a dish from 12th Century India led to the opportunity to take a deep dive into Indian history and cuisine.
“The research took longer than usual, but that was because I became enthralled and kept falling down rabbit holes,” Max adds.
He’s had a chance to discover the humorous side of history too. When researching the history of brie cheese, Max uncovered a cheese-related anecdote about the late rulers of France.
“King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette dressed as peasants in order to flee Paris to the safety of one of their chateaux. When they had almost made it to safety, Louis, overcome with a desire for Brie cheese and wine, forced the party to stop at an inn so he could indulge. They were recognized, arrested, and not long after, Louis and Marie were beheaded. All for the love of cheese.”
When he’s not researching or cooking for an episode of ‘Tasting History,’ Max spends his time absorbing period dramas and murder mystery films, flexing his classically trained singing chops and playing board games with his fiancé. “I can play one game for 10 hours and am happy as a clam,” he laughs. When the time comes, he can’t wait to indulge his other great love, travel. “If I had my way, I would travel most of the year,” he shares. “Getting to experience new places and new people is the best way to learn.” Maxis also an animal lover, adopting a new manatee every year through Save the Manatee, and a supporter of The Human Rights Campaign.
When asked about what keeps him motivated to learn and create, Max shares, “The weight of history inspires me. Whenever I feel unmotivated or depressed, I read about people like Galileo, Charles Darwin, Harriet Tubman or the G.I.s storming the beaches of Normandy. It’s not one person, but the many, many stories of people whose deeds dwarf anything I could ever be dealing with. It always puts things into perspective.”
‘Tasting History’ combines that historical perspective with Max’s authentic charm and clear passion for the subject. And what has he learned from turning a professional roadblock into a successful creative project?
“Sometimes, what seems like the worst thing can lead to an amazing opportunity. I’m not a professional cook or historian, just a lover of both who has turned a passion into something that resonates.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up the middle child of three in Phoenix, Arizona which is where all of my family still lives. We were, and still are, a close family which is why it’s so hard that I live in California now. The three of us kids were very different from each other. I think I stood out from my brother and sister in that I always had so many extracurricular activities going on. I was always doing plays, or taking piano lessons, or singing in choirs. It was actually being in choir that really stoked my love of history. I was in the Phoenix Boys Choir and each summer we would tour some place spectacular; Japan, China, the Philippines. Even at the age of 12, the trips were work trips, but since we often stayed in people’s homes, they were a great opportunity to learn about other cultures and their histories. That stuck with me through high school and college where I found every chance I could to travel. I was fortunate because, since I was on a singing scholarship at ASU, I was able to save what would be spent on tuition and put that toward trips to Europe almost every summer. That gravy train ended when I graduated and moved to NYC to pursue acting of course.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
While working for Walt Disney Studios, every Monday I would bring in the baked goods that I’d made that weekend to share with co-workers. Often, it was some cake or bread I’d found from Medieval France or Victorian England. Whether they asked or not, I made sure to let everyone know a bit about the history of the dish or when it came from. Then, at our Christmas party last December, a co-worker suggested I start a YouTube channel because I was obviously passionate about what I was bringing in. I love my life, but I had lost a lot of the passion I’d had when I was performing, so the idea definitely hit a nerve. A couple of months later, I started Tasting History.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It’s funny to even think of it as a career at this point because it’s so new, but definitely, the most interesting thing that happened was the week that my video on Garum went “viral”. I had been sitting around 6K subscribers for weeks, then, one Sunday morning, my fiancé showed me that I was at 10K! We thought it was a glitch on YouTube, but the number kept ticking up. By Thursday night, I was at 100K. What’s interesting is that neither then nor now do I have any idea why that video took off like it did. It’s not my favorite by any stretch. The lighting is kind of off and frankly, it’s too long, but something about it got people watching. It just goes to show that you never know what people will like, so best to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think the funniest mistake, and it’s only funny in hindsight, was when I first started getting criticism from people who I didn’t even know, I just had to defend myself. I remember in the Disney movie, Ralph Breaks the Internet, one of the characters warns Ralph to never look at the comments section and those are wise words. It caused me so much stress and sleepless nights because someone said something nasty and I just had to respond. I fed the trolls. Never feed the trolls! That’s what I’ve learned; if someone says something mean about you, just let it roll off your back because it really doesn’t matter.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m doing research on a series of videos where I’ll be making some of the food served on Titanic. I’ve always loved the history around the ship as well as the 1998 movie, so diving into the cuisine and the stories of individuals on the ship, from 1st Class to Crew, has been a real treat. Sometimes, I’ll be stressing about the number of pages of reading I’ve given to myself for homework and then I’ll have to pinch myself and say, “Stop whining, you get to read about Titanic for work!” But yeah, that is the project I’m most excited for right now.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
It’s important for two reasons, well, probably more, but I can think of two. One is because a lack of diversity means a lack of diverse stories and it’s a disservice to everyone if certain stories are not being told. If you’re constantly given the same stories from the same perspectives over and over, you’re missing out on so much. Listening to other people’s stories is like being exposed to other cultures through travel, but you can do it from home. When you hear their stories, you learn about other people who are not like you and it gives you the opportunity to put yourself in their shoes. It’s the best way to create empathy which is something sorely lacking in the world right now. The second reason is that it’s so important to see yourself represented. If you are not surrounded by a community of people similar to yourself, books and TV may be the only way for you to learn that there are other people like you. For me, it was shows like Will & Grace and Queer as Folk that showed a community that I’d never had much exposure to. Granted, looking back, those probably were the best portrayals I could have had, but the shows and characters today stand on the shoulders of those pioneering, if more stereotypical, shows. Again, it comes down to empathy, but in this case, it’s developing empathy for yourself. It helps you accept yourself and love who you are, and as RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell can you love somebody else?”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Nobody is thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are. — I spent years worried about what everyone around me was thinking. Every time I didn’t get a part in a show, I convinced myself that all of my friends were lying awake at night thinking how pathetic I was. How I wasn’t as talented as they would have hoped. This of course was not happening. The only person who cared was me.
2. You don’t have to know your life plan right when you leave college. It’s okay to change your mind. — After school, I moved to NYC to become an actor. I loved my life in New York and I wouldn’t trade those years for the world, but for the last few years, I was trying to convince myself that, since I had made this decision, I had to stick with it even if it wasn’t what I wanted to do. There was so much about the actor’s life that just wasn’t for me, but I spent my last two years in New York grinning and bearing it because I didn’t want to seem a failure. And I did fail, but that’s okay, because I realized that succeeding wasn’t going to make me happy. Sometimes failure is a good thing as long as you pick yourself up afterward.
3. Instead of waiting for your “big break”, just break it yourself. — I spent years hoping that someone would notice me, or just give me a shot, but what I’ve learned with producing Tasting History is that sometimes, you just have to do it yourself. Granted, I was fortunate that the channel took off as it did, but even if it hadn’t, it’s the creative outlet I’d been hoping someone else would give me for years. Since I made myself that outlet, it gives me much more of a sense of control which is necessary sometimes.
4. Don’t try to give them what they want. — I remember auditioning for the choreographer and director, Warren Carlyle, for the Broadway production of A Tale of Two Cities. I’d just finished a show with Warren, so he knew what I could do. I went into the room and sang for him, the composer, and the casting director. It was a big dramatic song written for someone with a booming voice because I knew that was how the show was written and that’s what they wanted. Well, guess what? I didn’t get it. Afterward, I asked Warren what I could have done different and he said, “you could have been yourself. Your voice is gentle and sweet, and you can’t pretend that it isn’t. We wanted that sweet voice, but we just didn’t see it in the room.” With that good advice in hand, I proceeded to ignore it until years later when, auditioning for the same casting director, I gave an audition completely counter to what the show was, but I was performing in a way that made me happy. I could tell they were a little confused by my audition, but it prompted those words that every actor wants to hear, “what else can you show us?” I booked it.
5. If the thing that you want doesn’t exist, make it. — One of my favorite shows, The Great British Bake Off, used to have these short segments where the hosts, Mel and Sue, would talk about the history of one of the bakes that the contestants were making that week. It was informative and charming and had their brand of irreverent, pun-infused humor. But when the show left the BBC, the segments all but disappeared. I missed them and would go back and watch old episodes just to relive them. When I decided that I would start a YouTube show on food history, I decided to make what I wanted that I couldn’t find, those Mel and Sue segments. Granted, my show is very different, but those segments were the nut that I planted when writing the first episodes. So yeah, if you can’t find what you want out there, just make it yourself.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Make a “not working” schedule and stick to it. It’s too easy to always be available and always be checking email. It’s too easy to fit in a little task now so later you’ll have more free time. Free time never seems to come. I’ve been better at blocking out certain hours each day when I don’t check email. I’ve started deleting the YouTube Studio app that tells me how well my videos are doing, the day after I post. I monitor it for 24 hours and then it’s gone until the next video. I’ve also just picked up The Four-Hour Work Week in the hope that it’ll help me figure out how to get it down to even a forty-hour workweek. You need to cherish that free time, because otherwise, what’s all the work for?
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to inspire a movement that gets people, specifically Americans, traveling outside of the country more. Travel is the best prescription against intolerance and ignorance. While traveling, you may learn about the history or culture of another country, but more importantly, you expose yourself to thoughts and opinions different from your own. In the polarized society of today, going to another country can free you from the partisan boundaries that we’ve set up in our country.
I think though, for most people, it’s not a lack of desire, but a lack of resources, so someday, I would love to have a foundation that pays for young people who can’t afford it to travel to a country of their choice. But while they’re there, they have to visit at least 1 museum or historical site every day. Then they can hit up the clubs at night. That’s what I did and look how I turned out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It’s hard to pick just one, but I’d have to go with Bob Bergen. He’s the voice of Porky the Pig, along with a lot of other beloved animated characters. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I took classes in voice acting with Bob and we ended up becoming good friends. While Bob is a terrific actor, he’s an even better teacher and what he taught me was how to let go and be comfortable with myself. I was never comfortable on camera or being seen in general (former fat kid syndrome perhaps) but getting behind a mic and not having anyone look at me, only hear me, let me break some bond that had always held me back. He dragged me out of myself and let me know it was okay to be weird. It was okay to be outrageous. It was okay to make mistakes. The confidence I learned in the 8 weeks of his class gave me the confidence to do what I do now.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Measure twice. Cut once.” I applied this to everything I did in the corporate world and applied it to creating Tasting History. I try to make sure that my words are saying what I actually mean, and that sometimes means having to tweak them before just blurting them out. And with the show, before putting out the first episode, I made sure every aspect of it, from the production quality, to the scripts, to the editing were as good as I could make them. Granted, it’s evolved since then, but I’m proud of that first episode as well as the last. A lot of people say that you have to “just get it out there” or else you’ll never do it, and there is merit in that, but there’s also the fact that if you’re not going to do your best, they why bother? You only get to make a first impression once, so try to make it your best. Of course, if that leads you into analysis paralysis, then it’s time to set a deadline and you can fix things as you go along. It’s a balance.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Alton Brown. I think he’s one of the most fascinating people around and his passion for learning is infectious even though a TV or phone screen; imagine what it’d be like in person! While my show isn’t modeled after his show, Good Eats, I often see places in my scripts where I think, “Gosh, that sounds like something Alton Brown would say.” I suppose I just watched his show so much, I absorbed some of it through osmosis.
How can our readers follow you online?
The best place is on my YouTube channel, youtube.com/tastinghistory, or on Instagram (@tastinghistorywithmaxmiller) and Twitter (TastingHistory1) where I post extra historical tidbits called Facts by Max.