Say it quietly, but a new must-have accessory is stalking the bank accounts of Britain’s middle classes. Like several of the other essential baubles of bourgeois life (BMWs, Audis etc) it hails from Germany, and just like these brands it’s pitiless in its quest for your dosh. But it’s also very, very good.
Step forward the Thermomix. At first glance it could be the world’s most expensive blender, but as the name implies it also cooks. Yes, it chops, whisks, sous-vides, steams, boils, it acts as weighing scales, it makes sauces and batters, virtually anything you could wish for – it even self-cleans. Better still it actually tells you what to do and when to add the ingredients for your recipe. It’s like having Keith Floyd in the room without the banter or the dent in the cellar.
The only thing it doesn’t do is eat the food for you.
And this, my friends, is just the start. Once you buy one of these devices – they cost about £1,149 so start saving now – you can also use its countless recipes and – by the mastery of the internet, if you click a few buttons here and there it will add the exact recipe ingredients to your shopping list at Waitrose, Ocado or wherever, so the required groceries will arrive at your doorstep. Then there’s – perhaps inevitably – an online community you can join with countless more recipes available and even more recipes added by other Thermomix junkies out there worldwide. So yes, it’s got a social dimension too.
It also comes from a company – a family owned outfit called Vorwerk – that seemingly has no shops (except a studio in Chelsea Harbour), but rather uses an army of advisors to demonstrate and sell the item. They’re the new Avon ladies of the Waitrose classes. Even without its somewhat quaint sales model, this fearsomely good machine prompts an infectious self-reinforcing zealotry from new buyers so I expect this will cross your path soon if it hasn’t already.
You’ll spot it immediately now I’ve warned you: at some point over pre-dinner drinks with friends – Covid permitting – the conversation will casually turn to the strange-looking blender that’s been left out rather ostentatiously.
For the Marsh family, the Thermomix initiation began when we accepted an invitation to stay with friends for a night or two at a cottage in Pembrokeshire they were renting in the summer. The Thermomix went with them and provided every meal we ate: and the tuck was good. Moreover, just like us our hosts have young children (they in fact have three!) so it’s not surprising that my other half departed Pembrokeshire intent on buying one of these machines.
However my wife, being both an actuary and a Scot, is extremely risk averse when it comes to dolloping large wodges of cash on items – so it took months of reading into it and dreaming of perfect pavlovas, before she could come to terms to parting with the dosh.
We signed up for a demonstration from a nice lady from Vorwerk called Natalie, the one who sold the machine to our friends, and the Marsh family duly took delivery of its Thermomix last week.
The good news is that I don’t think I’ve cooked a meal since, which is a pretty radical reversal of the usual state of affairs (though I do miss cooking a bit). But who can complain when you’re being regaled with astonishing dish after dish – and things like cheese scones (a cinch in five minutes to prepare). I have to say, much as I was ambivalent about it, the blessed thing is a marvel.
And it’s incredibly simple: Indian butter chicken becomes a simple task of dropping several onion quarters, a few cloves of garlic and fresh chilli into the machine’s mixing bowl – then dabbing the little ‘next’ button on the touch screen, so the whole caboodle is diced and then sauted; minutes later it beeps again, and tells you to add ghee and various spices for a bit more automated frying. Then it beeps again and prompts you to add the marinated chicken. The machine then gets on with it, before asking you to add prodigious amount of cream. Twenty minutes later it’s finished, and take-away good. And the joy is you’ve not had to think about it at all. It makes you a semi-employed sous chef in your own kitchen (but don’t tell anyone that, obviously). And while we’ve not tried it, it’s also said to be ideal for awkward tasks like hollandaise sauce, which requires a lot of stirring and can go wrong. Instead with the ‘Thermie’ (as I believe it’s known in some quarters), you essentially dump all the ingredients in at once and eight minutes later it’s done.
So it’s probably not surprising that we put on MasterChef the other night and saw one being used on the programme – though the voice over referred to it as ‘a blender’. Look online and there’s plenty of speculation over whether rather famous chefs with household names even use these very labour-saving devices in their kitchens. (I’m not wealthy enough to name any of the chefs mentioned but you can find them easily enough online.)
For those of us who worry that the Thermomix will do for cooking what the pocket calculator did for mental arithmetic, it’s too late. It’s here. And besides when you’re confronted with generations of adults who didn’t get home economics lessons (or cookery as it was once more honestly known) then this is just the ticket. They’re not being de-skilled because they never had any in the first place.
This year marks 50 years since the device was launched and as part of the inevitable bourgeoise Thermo-bore banter you’ll probably be told that every single household on the Continent has one. I have no idea if this is true. The machine was launched in Australia 20 years ago where, according to The Guardian, it has already achieved cult status.
And now the cult has landed here. So, if you’ve not had the chat over the kitchen island with a pal who's frighteningly evangelical about its charms, it’s only a matter of time. My advice is don’t hold back. Join the club.