Savor the Past Through Gay YouTuber Max Miller's 'Tasting History'

by Lawrence Ferber

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday September 24, 2020

Savor the Past Through Gay YouTuber Max Miller's 'Tasting History'
  (Source:Max Miller)

We know that famed gay wit Oscar Wilde loved to imbibe absinthe. "Alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, may produce all the effects of drunkenness," Wilde once said, but what did he like to eat?

That's something Max Miller may soon reveal and prepare on his addictive, new cooking show Tasting History. The YouTube series, which already has more than 320,000 subscribers, was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic after Miller, a Phoenix-born Los Angeleno, was furloughed from his film distribution job at Walt Disney Studios.

While Miller's fiancée, Jose, continued to work (also at Disney), Miller combined his love for both history and the culinary arts with a little inspiration from Food Network's Alton Brown's "Good Eats" to discuss and prepare ancient recipes rarely seen in contemporary culture including Elizabethan butterbeer, a Medieval cheesecake called Sambocade, a dessert dumpling from China's Ming Dynasty, and an ancient Roman condiment, Garum (the most popular episode to date, with over 1.2 million views).

Miller chatted with EDGE about the show, queer history, and the best and worst dishes so far.

EDGE: How did "Tasting History" come to be, and is this your first outing producing a show?

Max Miller>: This is my first foray. When I was at work at Disney, I would often cook these historical dishes and desserts and bring in and talk about them, and it was someone at work who gave me the idea to start the YouTube channel last Christmas. I'm so glad I found out a lot of people are interested in it. Every Tuesday, the goal is a new episode and, on occasion, an additional miniseries around one topic I'd release separately.

EDGE: Have any recipes so far involved queer historical figures?

MM: Yes! One of my favorite historical cookbooks is called "The Forme of Cury." It was written during the reign of King Richard II, who was one of your more malevolent English monarchs and actually deposed. He was gay and had a lover named Robert de Vere, and I talk about them in the episode "A Tart to Topple A King." Even in the 14th century, others knew their relationship was more than just friends — it was referred to as Familiaritatis Obsceni. After Robert died [in Belgium], the King ended up digging up his body and bringing it back to England and giving it all these honors, and there are stories of him hugging and kissing him, which was not necessarily a typical thing to do.

EDGE: Have you found an Oscar Wilde favorite, like a pie or stew or cake he enjoyed?

MM: I haven't necessarily come across any food or drink he liked, although that would be a fantastic episode. He has so many wonderful witticisms and quotes about food and eating and general manners, and I often find myself discussing those types of things. A really interesting episode would be to do a dish or two from his plays. In "The Importance of Being Earnest," there's an entire scene where they talk about tea and biscuits, and I would love to recreate those biscuits and pepper in some of Wilde's wit about food.

EDGE: What about an Alice B. Toklas recipe?

MM: I don't know her recipes all that well. She and Gertrude Stein existed a little bit later than I typically cover, but she's an incredible character, and there are so many incredible Stein-isms on food and polite society that would be fun to put in.

EDGE: Is it ever tough sourcing ingredients?

Well, I really got started right when everything was shutting down in March, and there was one drink I wanted to make called Hippocras, which is a spiced wine that has a lot of ingredients like spikenard, and if it wasn't toilet paper, Amazon wasn't delivering it. I had to contact a farm in Ghana for the Grains of Paradise and asked, can you send me these directly? They said, sure, but it would be a while, and it was. I didn't get everything until the end of June.

EDGE: Was it worth the effort?

MM: Yes! It's wonderful. Spiced wines are still a really big thing in Europe, around Christmas especially, and South America, but this one is not necessarily supposed to be enjoyed hot. It can be done cold or room temperature or warm. The flavors are so interesting and more aromatic than anything you find today because some of those spices are never really used in Western cooking, like galangal, long pepper and spikenard.

EDGE: Have any recipes sucked?

MM: Yes. I did an ancient Greek beverage called Kykeon. I can't say I expected it to be great, but it was definitely worse than I thought: there's almost no way to combine wine, cheese and barley in a delicious format! Finding some of these old things people ate and were often revered and tasting them today, it's like, 'Uh... OK.' Even cakes. Sugar was used in much smaller quantities because it was very expensive until the last 400 years or so, and you taste these desserts and think, this isn't a dessert we would eat today. Not pleasant.

EDGE: Is there a dream recipe you're chasing for a future episode?

MM: I just came across one of my dream recipes for mead. I always wanted to make mead, a spirit made from honey, how they would have in Viking times. There are no recipes from the Viking era, but this is from shortly afterward in the 1200s. It's very different from how we make mead today and only takes three days instead of several weeks or months. I would love to make some of the more wild medieval dishes, like peacock, and when they would take a swan and cook it but add the feathers and everything back, so it looks like a living swan. Someday I'll have a kitchen large enough to accommodate that. Even if I had a swan today, I would have no place to cook it.

Lawrence Ferber's travel and arts journalism has appeared in Passport Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, New York Post, and other publications. Based in NYC, he is also co-writer of the 2010 gay romcom BearCity and authored its 2013 novelization.

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