When Max Miller got furloughed from his job at Disney at the start of the pandemic, he was bored, to say the least.
Miller, who's spent much of his adult life in the film industry, technically still had a job, which was great. But he didn't have anything to do to occupy his ample time.
But unlike the rest of us procrastibakers, Miller, "had been making historic food ever since I became obsessed with The Great British Bakeoff about six years ago. I really hadn't done any cooking before that, but I've always been fascinated with cooking of all sorts, so when they used to have little sections on the show where they would talk about the history of what they were making, I was inspired."
He told friends at work about all the archaic but "relatable" foods he was making, and eventually, someone suggested he make a YouTube channel about it. The rest, as they say, was history.
Miller started making videos on his channel, Tasting History, in February of 2020. He's amassed 500k subscribers in just under a year.
Miller says his channel's success feels "surreal," but he thinks he knows why it has such mass appeal: "We still eat today. That has not gone away, and so if you make something in the style of an ancient Roman recipe, now you're never going to get it exactly how they ate it because ingredients have changed, everything has changed... Food brings [the past] to life."
That said, it's still a shocking rise to fame: "I've failed at so many things. I expected this to be yet another. When I told [my fiance] that I wanted to do this, we were in the car, and he said, 'Don't be discouraged when nobody watches...' We set our bar pretty low. I think the goal was 1000 subscribers by the end of the year."
He's certainly blown that estimate out of the water.
Miller assumed that people would be most engaged with the food he was making—and the "gross-out" factor associated with ancient foods like garum (otherwise known as Roman fermented fish sauce.) So it threw him for a loop when it became clear that the history is, "what people are enjoying the most. The history sections have gone from two minutes to being half of the episode. They're seven or eight minutes now, which makes me happy because that's my favorite part... People enjoy storytelling, no matter what."
Right now, Miller is working seven days a week, entirely by himself, to make his channel happen. He took Christmas off. But he doesn't mind the grueling schedule (or the fact that he begins most weeks like a deer in headlights, researching for as much as 20 hours before a script comes to him). For Miller, "It's not work as much as a wonderful hobby that I'm so lucky to get to do and have people watch."
The best part, though, is that they aren't just watching. They're also making food from his show:
"What I've noticed is that it's inspiring people to cook. I have people saying 'I don't cook at all,' but you inspired me to make your pumpkin pie or bake bread for the first time... I think that's good, expanding your horizons... I've [also] gotten a lot of feedback saying, 'I came here for the food but I stayed because I got so engrossed in the history.' I think that's fantastic. If you can get diverted from everything that's going on in the world for even seventeen or eighteen minutes, then I've done my job for the week."
Clearly, legions of fans agree. Lucky for them, he has no plans of stopping any time soon.
Photo credit: Riker Brothers
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