When you see a medic bypass the 100-metre line and waltz straight into an all-you-can-eat hot-chip party, you know some serious consumption is about to go down.
Maximum Chips – one of Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s most anticipated events – finally happened on Friday night after two years of postponements, taking over E Shed at Queen Victoria Market and filling it with all manner of potato-y things.
You’d be surprised by just how hot under the collar an average Melburnian can get over the prospect of unlimited hot chips. Or maybe you wouldn’t. While we waited for the French-fry floodgates to open, adult faces were filled with child-like giddiness. In an ordinary line, most punters would be staring at their phones. But at Maximum Chips, most people were craning their necks trying to get a glimpse of what lay over the fence.
“Best day of my life,” an early-20s woman said while waiting to have her ticket checked, with a cheesy, could-it-get-any-better-than-this? grin. She soon realised it, in fact, could – her jaw dropped as soon as she noticed the drinks vouchers being distributed at the entry.
As one of the first people inside, I got a sense I wasn’t the only one pretending to keep my cool. Clusters of disco balls were suspended from the ceiling and DJ Minx bounced behind her decks. The entire length of the market hall was lined with hot-chip stalls, each marked with (and dishing out) a different kind. I moved from French-fried to crinkle-cut to hand-cut to shoestring and then to the hot chip’s chonky cousin, the potato gem.
Who knew the simple spud could create such sensory overload? Frying fumes lingered in the air, music thumped through the speakers and enthusiastic chatter filled any leftover quietness. Then a middle-aged man let out a squeal of excitement. It was a lot. But it’s clear I was not alone in my state of overwhelm as I tuned in to a conversation between two 30-something men. “I’m stressed,” one proclaimed. His slicked hair and well-fitted suit told me he could be a lawyer. Was a courtroom child’s play compared to this? He’s pacified by his potato-loving pal: “Okay, okay. Eyes on the prize: beer-battered.”
The interactions were shameless. “You can’t fit all that in your mouth,” said a mum to what appeared to be her crumb-covered son. He could, and he did. “Maybe we should have brought a doggie bag,” said another woman, with half a dozen buckets of fried goodness in front of her. “What size?” asked someone doing the ordering. “The biggest,” replied their mate, there to indulge in all the excess and none of the lining up.
Roving through the party in ketchup-coloured jumpsuits was the high-octane Condiment Crew – fulfilling “all your saucing, gravy and Salt Bae needs” – which left behind a trail of mayo-smeared mouths. “Yummy yummy, saucy saucy,” a teenager squawked to her friend. Meanwhile, “I’ll be back for you; we’ll meet again!” someone romantically declared to a crew member as they set off all sauced-up.
The market shed filled up, and if the individual queues were anything to go by, potato gems emerged as the best-loved potato product. It seemed all too Melbourne of Melburnians to go to a hot-chip party just to line up for the only non-chip on offer. It was out-Melbourne-d only by someone who said, “No, no. I’m freegan. It’s different. If I’m not paying, I’ll eat it.”
After an hour or so, my food baby started kicking and I decided to tap out. As I made my final lap of the fever dream of an event, Mr and Mrs Potato Head walked through the front gates. I couldn’t quite tell if they were part of it, or simply two overexcited chip-lovers. Regardless, they seemed to go largely unnoticed as the crowd frenzied for fries.
Melbourne Food & Wine Festival runs until April 9.