Australia

The kitchen appliance dividing Australia

Kate McCartney, left, and Kate McLennan
Image caption A Thermomix sketch by comedians Kate McCartney, left, and Kate McLennan has proved very popular

It is being talked about in the corridors of power and in the streets of suburbia. Politicians have been questioned about it on morning television and comedians have made fun of it.

Now, the Thermomix is setting social media on fire in Australia.

The luxury German kitchen workhorse, which steams, blends, kneads, chops, and can cook a risotto in 16 minutes flat, has attracted the attention of politicians, foodies and browsers alike.

On Tuesday, the Thermomix was central to debate in a Senate hearing in Canberra after it was revealed that Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove's office was tendering for the kitchen appliance, which retails at just over A$2,000 (£1,000; $1,500).

As the Senate was unsure exactly what a Thermomix was - and why the Governor-General should need one - South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi filled them in, describing it as a food processing machine "very popular amongst the home master chefs of today".

Labor's Joe Ludwig added that perhaps it was a tool for "elite trendies".

No fun?

The haut monde's foodie culture is exactly what two Australian comedians, Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, have sent up in their six-part web series The Katering Show, made on a budget of A$200,000, with A$150,000 funded by government film-funding body Screen Australian.

They have taken the mickey out of ethical eating, Christmas, and "food porn". But it is their Thermomix episode that has gone viral, attracting over 1.2 million views.

"It's the kind of appliance that your rich mother-in-law gives you as a wedding gift because she doesn't think you can cook," McLennan explains in the episode.

Image caption The machine at the centre of the attention steams, blends, kneads, chops, and can cook a risotto

Devotees sing the Thermomix's praises for its multiple functions, including sensors that automatically monitor temperatures and a self-clean button.

Detractors, however, believe that it takes the fun and expertise out of sweating over a stove.

"I'm going to make the full-flavour risotto using my own set of appliances called skills and a kitchen," jibes McLennan as she performs a cook-off with her co-host on the show.

Cult-like aura

The pair were inspired to write the episode after realising many of their friends and family had bought the device.

McLennan recalls: "Everyone was like: 'I love my Thermomix!' It was like they all had been paid to speak about it, but they hadn't."

The comedian then noticed that the mere mention of the word Thermomix in her stand-up routine elicited howls of laughter from the audience - often before she had said the actual punch line. She realised "there was a groundswell of support for people laughing at other people who buy a Thermomix".

This largely comes down to the cult-like aura that surrounds the kitchen appliance. The Thermomix cannot be bought in retail stores. Instead, droves of demonstrators are sent out to houses to show what the device can do and to persuade consumers to open their wallets.

"It's almost an underground movement - it's like the masons. You have to know the secret knock to get the person to come over to your house!" jokes McCartney.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Foreign Minister Julie Bishop appears to be one of the few Australians unaware of the device

Love it or hate it, the Thermomix is a marker of social status and an aspirational device - the next "must-have" kitchen gadget for those with a few thousand dollars to throw around. McCartney sees similarities to how people once viewed "miracle" microwave ovens in the 1970s and 1980s.

People believed that "you [could] cook everything in [the microwave], that you should do everything in that one machine," she says. "Then people settled down and realised it's really just to heat up milk and takeaway Thai food. I have a feeling the Thermomix will go that way as well."

The two comedians are divided on whether they would like a Thermomix. McLennan, an enthusiastic home cook, detests the device, believing it would "take away the instinct from cooking".

Meanwhile, McCartney has been won over. "The first time I'd ever laid eyes on a Thermomix was when we shot the episode," she recalls. "I was sold within seconds! You can pretend to cook without ever really having to touch food."

Not everyone has caught up with the culinary zeitgeist. On Wednesday, Australia's foreign minister was asked if she knew what a Thermomix was on breakfast television.

"I'm going to answer in emoji," replied Julie Bishop. And then pulled a baffled face.

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