The smart kitchen is the buzzword of the culinary world, connecting appliances to a phone, a tablet, and even the cloud in the name of efficiency. It’s a new market that’s still finding its feet, presenting a mix of industry-changing innovation and utter malarkey.
Just about everything. This device invented the smart kitchen 40 years ago.
Hang onto your cast iron pan. The Thermomix could replace several kitchen appliances, but meat is not its strong suit. $1,300 is not chump change.
How We Rate
- 1/10A complete failure in every way
- 2/10Sad, really
- 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
- 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
- 5/10Recommended with reservations
- 6/10Solid with some issues
- 7/10Very good, but not quite great
- 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
- 9/10Nearly flawless
- 10/10Metaphysical perfection
Memo to today’s smart kitchen
The Thermomix ($1,300) is a cult-like object in many corners of the world. With millions of units in circulation, it has inspired scores of dedicated cookbooks, and so many websites that there are websites to categorize the websites. You could call it a “multi-cooker.” It looks like a blender jar (they call it a “mixing bowl”) nestled into a sleek, futuristic centrifuge, and can do things like weigh, blend, stir, whip, chop, and boil. It can make dough. It can even steam, which it does in a basket that sits on the blender jar like a tiny UFO. Kate and Kate from The Katering Show advocate drying dishtowels in it. Don’t try that.
How is it that we haven’t heard of it yet in the United States? Despite the legions of fans around the world, Thermomix only reached our shores in September, 2016 with its fifth generation, the TM5.
When I first opened a production model for review, I wondered what to do with it, so I called my friend Marta Carnicero, a Barcelona-based food journalist and novelist who’s penned several Thermomix cookbooks. She sent a set of recipes to get me going. I made cauliflower soup. I made risotto. They used to say real men don’t eat quiche, but they don’t say that anymore, so I made quiche.
Having recently reviewed a string of kitchentools that were newcomers to the market and came with unexpected quirks, I immediately noticed how nice it is to work with a well-established product. Happily free of the Kickstarter marketing hoopla that’s a de facto prerequisite for almost all appliances new to the kitchen space (whether they need the money or not), the Thermomix is a well-honed, time-tested machine. Every part except the motor can go straight into the dishwasher, a feature that should be written into the 10 Commandments of Kitchen Goods.
Marta’s cauliflower and Parmesan soup was a great introduction to the machine. Every step in Thermomix recipes includes directions for time, temperature, and mixer speed. The first step in the soup calls for grating parmesan, which means weighing out a few thumb-sized hunks of Parm into the blender jar, then blasting them 10 seconds on speed 10 with no heat. For two seconds, it made a crazy racket, then ran so smoothly I wondered if the blender blade shaft sheared. But no—I peered inside and found a mound of Parmesan, fluffy as snow.
I set the cheese aside, weighed some oil into the jar, heated the oil, then added chopped leeks and let it cook on high heat with the slow-spinning blade doing the stirring for me. I added water and a rough-chopped head of cauliflower, left it on high heat, turned the blade speed down to 2.5, and did other things while it whirred away for 35 minutes. At the end (it beeps after every step), I poured the Parmesan back in the jar, added a shot of milk, turned the heat off and jacked the blade speed up to nine. The machine spun up like a jet and 90 seconds later I poured myself a bowl of hot, silky-smooth soup.
Notice how I didn’t mention measuring cups in there? Using the built-in scale, you can weigh as you go, often directly into the mixing bowl. It’s an incredibly clean machine to work with, cutting down on measuring cups and mise en place bowls. I also appreciated how once I hit start on a step, the machine locks the lid closed, psychologically freeing me to clean or prep the next step.
Notice, too, how the machine does most of the knife work? Even when I intentionally pushed its limits in my testing, it made quick work of anything up to the size of a small onion.
Remember that quiche? Marta’s version came together in a hurry. I made a simple pastry crust dough in the mixing bowl, which I then rolled out and laid it into a tart pan. I did a quick clean of the mixing bowl by pouring hot soapy water into it, and buzzing the blades, forward and reverse, a few times, making a noise similar to the sound in Prometheus when everything goes haywire. Then I sautéed bacon in the mixing bowl, added the eggs and cream, poured it all into the waiting crust, set the mixing bowl in the dishwasher and slid the quiche into the preheated oven. There was little left to clean. My wife came into the kitchen and said, “Look! A quiche!” as if it had appeared by magic, which it sort of had. She took a bite, dragged a fingernail down my chest, and said, “What a man you are!”
I kept going, switching to The Basic Cook Book and the book’s accompanying “recipe chip,” which attaches to the side of the machine. With the chip, the Thermomix prompts you to weigh ingredients right in the bowl as you go, and tees up the right time, temperature and mixer settings for each step. I gathered momentum, cooking more recipes and getting faster at them—helped along by the chip. Inspired by The Katering Show, I made weeknight risotto in 30 minutes. I made meat sauce for pasta, and butternut squash soup. I made yogurt, of all things.
On a Wednesday, I thought I’d make the Basic book’s take on chicken with garam masala spices, but got a late start. At 7:05pm, I opened the spice rack (the Thermomix even functioned as a capable spice grinder) and did a crash-and-burn blast through the recipe, cleaning and/or getting ready from the next step every time the lid closed.
At 7:45, I put the blender jar into the dishwasher, and sat down at the table to eat. Did the garam masala recipe hew to the ancient Ayurvedic recipe for the spice mixture that Madhur Jaffrey refers to in her Ultimate Curry Bible? To my surprise, the answer was “pretty much.” Was it a restaurant-quality dish? Nah, but it was pretty tasty for a weeknight home-cooked meal made in 40 minutes—including cleaning—on my first run with the recipe. Sure, with a bit more time, it would have been nice to let the flavors mellow and mingle. My masala, in fact, serves as a good example of the Thermomix’s strengths and weaknesses. The machine is very much like an extra set of hands that help keep the ball rolling. If you’re looking for the best version of something you’ve ever had, or perfectly symmetrical cubes when you chop an onion, this is not the droid you’re looking for. And while it did cook the chicken for the Indian dish (it simmers in tomato sauce) and the ground beef for a solid bolognese, and you can steam things, meats are not its strong suit. You’re not going to get a nice, hard sear on anything in a blender jar.
You should also be prepared to pay for quality, as the Thermomix costs $1,300.
That said, it did what my very favorite products do: convinced me to try cooking dishes I don’t normally make—Quiche! Yogurt! Indian food!—and opened my mind to possibilities. That blender jar isn’t huge, but since you can control the temperature in it, you could even use it to do small portions of sous vide. Carnicero mentioned that in addition to using her Thermomix for making things like dough and crème anglaise, she likes to use it to prep food in advance to tuck in the freezer for heat-and-eat weeknight meals. “It’s good if you love to cook,” she said, “but it’s also great if you don’t love to cook and just want to follow instructions.”
There’s almost zero glamour in a machine like this. You only need look at the steamer basket that goes on top to know it is decidedly un-hip, but by the time I had to send my review model back, I was finding new things to appreciate all the time: you can use the scale function in the middle of doing an unrelated step; the spatula has a tear-shaped collar on the handle that keeps the business end of the utensil off the countertop without rolling away. I appreciated how it helped me through recipes while limiting the mess. It automates the cooking process without taking away from your sense of ownership of a dish.
These days there are plenty of kitchen gadgets out there claiming to be smart, but the Thermomix, which forgoes the fussiness of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth altogether, is clearly the smartest tool in a home chef’s arsenal.