The gadget world is full of companies that don’t so much sell a labor-saving product as they do a fantasy of organization and efficiency. Vorwerk, maker of the Thermomix, is one such company. Thermomix is technically a food processor. But it’s really meant to be an all-in-one kitchen, complete with recipe book — cooking entire meals in the space of a couple cubic feet. This is not something I will ever need. But I would probably feel really clever if I learned to use it.
The fully assembled Thermomix is a tower of pots and cooking peripherals. Its base is large, white, and rounded — not something from an industrial kitchen, but a soft-focus utopian future. In the middle, there’s space for a tall metal pot with a blade, which works either for blending or gentle stirring. Inside, you can fit a relatively small steaming colander, and above, there’s a large pot for additional steaming, with a roasting tray and lid at the very top. There are also a few extra touches, like a 100-ml measuring cup and a silicone spatula that turns into a handle for the small steamer.
There are a lot of moving parts here, but a digital recipe book (essentially a detachable dongle) can guide you through cooking a couple hundred dishes, using a small screen on the bottom. A new, Wi-Fi-enabled attachment connects to Vorwerk’s Cookidoo platform, which contains around 20,000 recipes; users can either pay a few dollars a month for access, or buy “books” of 10 to 30 recipes for around $4. The full-meal recipes are supposedly designed to work well with Thermomix’s single heating source, so you’re not overcooking one piece while waiting for another. You can’t import your own recipes, although this feature is supposedly coming, but you can manually set the temperature and cooking time for your own dishes.
This all sounds cool when I describe it, but once you get over the novelty of stacking things, the process doesn’t seem that much easier than just using separate pieces of equipment. And the fact that the Thermomix is $1,299 makes that option a lot more attractive. Sure, there are some genuinely neat-sounding automated options, like a system that cooks custard. But others aren’t nearly as impressive. Yes, it can make fluffy rice all on its own. You know what else can do that? My $30 rice cooker. I could buy most of the equipment Thermomix supposedly replaces — blender, food processor, steamer, coffee grinder, and so on — for a fraction of the price.
There are really two situations where Thermomix makes total sense. The first is if you live somewhere with absolutely zero storage space — enough that you literally cannot fit equipment like a food processor and rice cooker and still keep basic pots and pans. The second is if you don’t have a stove, and want something better than a hot plate. I’ve met both these criteria in the past, and many other people have too. Unfortunately, these were the points at which I was least equipped to spend over a thousand dollars on a kitchen appliance. And even then, I would really have missed being able to grill or roast things, which you can’t do (at least, not well) with the Thermomix.
This leaves the category of conspicuous non-consumers — the people who don’t have a stove or any cupboards because they live in a beautifully elaborate miniature house in the middle of a wilderness. (Or absurdly wealthy kids in college dorms.) Since I haven’t cooked anything with the Thermomix and can’t vouch for its efficacy as a food processor or blender, I can’t recommend it to these people on its merits. But conceptually, it’s the perfect fit.