Potato aficionado, celebrating the mundane, building online communities.
You ever meet someone who was living the dream you never knew you had? As the unofficial hot chip queen of Instagram, Michelle Easson is living mine.
What started out as a joke in 2013, Michelle, or ‘Mip’, wanted to celebrate the humble potato, which was often overlooked by not only restaurateurs but also “best of” lists. So she decided to create her own, with her Instagram, ‘Mips Chips‘.
After years of curating her ladder of Melbourne’s best chip, a 2020 pandemic saw her rotate her reviews to the frozen chip, which rocketed her into the local zeitgeist and amass quite the online following, and a couple of TV appearances to boot, for her hilarious and honest fry reviews.
Michelle is a long-time buddy of mine so it was an absolute joy to catch up and chat all things hot chips, her sudden rise to the spotlight, plagiarism and the downfall of modern journalism, and how to manage online communities.
Michelle Easson is…
I think Michelle Easson is a woman who is figuring it out as she goes and trying to have a good time doing it.
Aren’t we all! What do you do with your life and when did you figure out that this was what you wanted to do?
I’m freelancing in marketing and communications at the moment. On the side I run an Instagram page called Mips Chips, where I go around reviewing hot chips. Last year that took off because I started reviewing freezer chips with my deep fryer at home throughout Melbourne’s lockdown. That ended up getting a bunch of publicity and went a bit nuts!
I don’t know if you’ve ever had that moment where you’re like, that person is living my dream that I didn’t even know I had? That was me when you started your Instagram. How did it begin?
So many people have said that it’s a dream job. But I don’t get paid for this. It’s a hobby! It actually started as a joke, but there were some key drivers behind that.
I’ve always been obsessed with food, and ever since camera phones existed I’ve been taking photos of every meal that I ate. A good meal or a bad meal would make or break my day!
Secondly I’ve always loved writing; when I was young I’d be writing books, and letters and I had all these pen pals.
And the third reason I started the account is because I would read all these food articles and I noticed there would always be pieces on the best burgers in Melbourne or the best ice creams. And they would only ever talk about the same 10 or 20 shops, which were usually the ones doing all this stuff on Instagram, like the freak shakes and the burgers that literally come up to your waist.
And because I was always eating food out all the time, I’d be like, they haven’t even scratched the surface! They’ve literally just gone to the top 10 most popular places and stuck them on their list. And it annoyed me that it wasn’t thorough; it was just clickbait.
It also just so happened that my high school nickname was Mip, and that rhymes with chips, so it kind of just fell into place.
You mention that it started as a joke, but was there an intention behind it? You do come from a marketing and communications background.
Yeah my career and my “side hustle”, whatever you want to call it, they do align, but when I started it back in 2013 it literally was just a bit of fun and a creative outlet.
I never thought that it would become this big thing. And now I’ve got nearly 20,000 followers, I’m getting stories written about me, and I’m getting asked to go on TV and radio. I never planned for it and it’s crazy.
When it comes to the actual reviews themselves, what are you looking for? What is the ideal chip for you?
So the criteria for restaurant chips: you want it to be crunchy on the outside, steamy on the inside. You’re also looking at flavour, seasoning, the freshness, the sauce that they put with it. Also, if there’s any kind of wow factor or something unique, that’s always awesome, because I love the creativity that some restaurants will take. Though, that said, it can go horribly wrong.
I love that you’ve brought, what is typically a side dish, to the spotlight. They’re so underrated!
A hundred percent. Like what can’t potatoes do! A lot of restaurants will put all of this effort and energy in the burger or the parma, and then won’t even give a second thought to the chip. It’s really disappointing because that can be the hero.
I always think that I would be a horrible food reviewer, because I don’t want to say anything mean. How do you balance being kind and fair to the restaurant, whilst giving an honest review for your followers?
That’s something I’ve struggled with as I’ve gotten bigger, because now I’m more aware that what I say can actually have an impact. Though I don’t think that highly of myself that I would put anyone out of business!
I’m still definitely very honest, I will never lie, because people trust me. But I might soften how I would say it. Even if I don’t enjoy the chip, I’ll throw in a few positive bits and pieces here and there. Hopefully it can be seen as constructive feedback with my spin on it.
Your reviews are hilarious and I think it’s probably one of the biggest reasons you’ve built such a following. And obviously not everyone’s going to agree with what you’ve said, chips are quite personal! How do you work with that?
For the most part it’s been pretty positive. And I do love having this like community and talking about something that’s so mundane. When you think about it, it’s fried potatoes, but it is fun.
I’ve been very lucky, I haven’t had any trolls or anything too negative. But there have been a couple of things that have made me question, does someone really think that of me? I don’t know if you’re supposed to respond to people who say negative things, but if it’s questioning my integrity, and my expertise I do often respond. And then they’ll always backtrack because they realise there’s actually a person behind this. We’re all just bonding over chips really. You can’t take it too seriously.
Obviously last year there was no potential to go out and eat chips in public, so how did the frozen chip Mip start?
I think it was just after the first lockdown and I was trying to continue with my reviews. I’d ordered a couple of takeaway chips and by the time they’d arrived, they were cold and soggy. I thought it wouldn’t be fair if I started reviewing takeaway chips because it wasn’t a true reflection of what these restaurants were serving.
I’d had this deep fryer for a while, but it never got much use. So I thought I’d review supermarket chips because that’s something that we could all participate in.
Stupidly, I thought that it would maybe take a couple of weeks or be 10, 15 different bags of chips. And then as I continued down that rabbit hole, I realised there was so much more than that.
Although it’s only five or six brands, they each have so many different varieties, so I didn’t realise what I was embarking on. And because I’m an all or nothing perfectionist – I’m not going to be one of those publications who just reviews 20 chips – I’m gonna eat them all!
And how many was it in the end?
63! Who even thought there would be 63 different varieties of frozen chips?
The frozen chips reviews really blew up, didn’t they?
When I’d reviewed around 10 chips and I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if this got a bit of publicity? So I sent a few journalists a little spiel on what I’d been doing, and I was completely surprised because pretty much all of them wanted to run the story.
And it’s funny because once you open that door, you can’t shut it again. Even if I wanted to stop and not get any more publicity, it’s out there and it’s my own doing. But it was awesome and fun.
I had all these interesting opportunities, like going on TV and the radio, but it’s one of those things that just became way bigger than I thought! And I’m still just doing the same thing. I’m still just reviewing chips and having fun and trying to be creative.
Yeah, publicity is a strange beast, isn’t it? You had people like Hamish Blake follow you, and like a few fun moments like that.
And nothing says publicity like a copycat! I remember seeing the post by an online streetpress publication, which was doing their own version, and your followers got really up in arms about it.
Well, it’s so funny you say that because I was Googling myself last week, as you do, and that article came up. They were one of the publications that I reached out to and they never got back to me. And this article was dated one week after I had emailed them!
This journalist had written a story where they had found the “top five freezer chips”. And while they claimed they had this random idea to do it, they also mentioned my Instagram in it.
They had literally taken my idea, tagged my Instagram in it, but not given me any credit for it. They’re a ginormous publication and I’m one person who had a cool idea. But also, if you’re going to do it, do it properly!
It’s such lazy journalism.
The worst thing was their number one chip was potentially one of the worst two that I tried. It was a microwave chip, so that’s just outrageous!
I was so angry when I saw it and I was considering going on this massive rant and then realised it wasn’t worth it.
It’s not worth it, it’s just poor journalism. I think in this day and age, it’s really hard to have an original idea that’s sacred, and once you pitch it to someone you can’t control what happens to it.
It’s not hard, just don’t steal other people’s ideas, for what, a few clicks!
When it came to the TV and radio appearances, how did you find that experience, as someone who was thrust into the spotlight? Did you find it overwhelming and daunting or did you enjoy it?
I’m a writer. Each and every word that I put in my reviews is very precise. Radio was actually really fun because I’m happy to have a yarn. But when there’s a camera in your face, particularly when you can’t see who you’re talking to, that was quite rattling.
The third TV appearance I did made me swear that I’ll never do TV again. It was just awful. I felt so anxious and uncomfortable. For this one it was just an ear piece and a cameraman at my house and I could only hear the hosts not see them. The hosts didn’t really engage with me, and I could only hear them making noises, but they were making jokes and gesturing on camera. I had no idea what they were doing. So I was standing there like a stunned mullet, like probably just going red. Also the segment was cut short, because of this breaking news surrounding Donald Trump.
So I definitely don’t like being in front of a camera. I also don’t like things that I can’t control, it gives me such anxiety! Some of the journalists you talk to will write beautiful articles and have really relevant quotes to really tell the story.
Other publications just write what you say verbatim. And it doesn’t make sense or it’s not in context. I’m so sarcastic when I speak so when it’s translated to writing it can seem like I’m being a huge asshole!
Especially when they’re not using the whole conversation and then things get taken out of context. It’s a massive minefield.
Yeah, that’s why I like having my page where I’ve got full control. And then it’s just about the chip and the words behind the chip.
And so what’s next for what’s next for the page? Have you got any grand plans or are you just going to keep doing what you’re doing?
The main thing I don’t want to do is set all these expectations and try and make Mips Chips my main source of income, where I’m going to have to hustle, because I think that would just completely take the fun out of it. I get so much fulfillment and enjoyment from doing it and I worry that if I monetise then I’ll have to answer to someone, whether it’s your customers or whoever’s paying the bills.
At this point in time, I’m open to different opportunities that come my way. I am listening to my gut about what’s right. I would potentially explore different ways to maybe make a little bit of money through collaborations.
And then the one thing that I’m working towards is my Great Aussie Chip Trip!
Oh, tell me more!
The plan is to run a campaign and get people from all over the country, random rural towns and cities, to send in their chip recommendations, and go on this road trip, or road chip, to try and find Australia’s number one chip! I’m still figuring out how that would work.
There’s other ideas that I’ve been throwing around, like maybe some merch or a seasoning or something like that. But I think for me it would always be a creative outlet and a way to continue to have fun with it.
It’s always such a risk turning your hobby into your main source of income and potentially losing the joy of doing it.
Exactly. So no grand plans other than just keep doing what I’m doing, building this community, and talking with people and eating all the chips.
I am also building a website, which I’ve been doing for an embarrassingly long time, because I have to replicate every review. And there’s over 500 now, so it’s time consuming. I want that to be the hub, the ultimate chip guide, with a ladder and a top 10.
I know I’ve been that person before who’s jumped on your Instagram to find where I should be going when I have a chip craving.
I want people to be able to filter it, because people will message me all the time for recommendations and I have to go back through my photos to try and remember!
So my last question for you is, what is your perfect day?
Perfect day would probably be a summer day. Waking up, reading my book, having a cup of tea with the dogs sitting on the bed, all cozy. Then going for a walk, or going to the beach, definitely eating chips at some point. Maybe a picnic with my friends in the park, having a few drinks. And then ending up at a seedy club somewhere, being like, how did this happen? Yeah, I think that that probably sums up my perfect day right now.
To follow Michelle’s chip adventures, follow her Instagram Mip Chips
Listen to Michelle’s podcast episode through your favourite platform here