In Hannah Phelps’ immaculate kitchen, Holly Bishop is waiting. She sits next to her mother at a large dining room table, while Phelps arranges her brochures on top of her. Across from her, Phelps’s wide kitchen bench has a few ingredients on it—some rice, some beets—and, to stage right, a gleaming Thermomix.
“I’ve had it on my mind for four years and I’m finally here,” says Bishop.
“Here”, in the beautiful house of consultant Phelps in western Sydney, there is a demonstration of the Thermomix. It’s the primary way the $2,269 High Powered Blender/Kettle/Slow Cooker/Heat While Stir/Proofer/Grocery List Generator/Online Computer/Wi-Fi Recipe Center is marketed and sold.
Hannah Phelps demonstrates how to make garlic pizza dough in the Thermomix. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian
Bishop’s mom, Denise McGlinchy, has had a Thermomix for a while. Her sister has one. His other daughter too.
“I’ve never asked Holly before,” says McGlinchy, who has come for support and to see the latest version, the TM6, in action. But Bishop, who owns and runs a Pilates studio in Moorebank, recently stepped even further away from the job. With two children at home and a longer trip, time to cook is at a premium. Since the move, McGlinchy has been more insistent. “I said, ‘Holly, you really need a Thermo.'”
Australian Thermomix distributor In the Mix is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The appliance has been around in Europe for 50 years. Over the past two decades, he has developed a cult following in Australia, spawning online communities numbering in the hundreds of thousands and appearing in prime-time cooking competitions. The Thermomix has survived a safety scandal, resulting in user injuries and multi-million dollar fines, and has been the subject of parody (The Katering Show ran a lengthy segment on the product/”hot moist rice” that has been viewed over 2 .7 million times).
There are 2,500 Thermomix consultants in Australia and last year, according to In The Mix’s Bianca Mazur, they experienced 30% growth. Australia is now the seventh largest market internationally by sales, behind larger, more established markets such as Germany, France and China. In 2020, Thermomix had a record year globally, selling 1.4 million units.
I’ll get up in the morning while my daughter gets ready and make her fresh muffins.
The latest version Phelps is demonstrating is Wi-Fi-enabled, connected to a global repository of recipes that users are guided through through the device’s step-by-step digital interface. In addition to heating, mixing, grinding and steaming, you can generate shopping lists based on meal plans and order delivery directly from Woolworths.
Lainie Saiz, 29, sits at the end of Phelps’ table. She has known Phelps for a few years. Her children know each other.
“I’ve wanted one for so long,” she says. “Every time I was here with Hannah, she would cook with him. As she talks about it, there are no added preservatives. All those things that you don’t want your kids to eat, you can cut them out completely.”
Saiz is a single mother of an almost six-year-old boy. She works part time and studies full time. She bought a Thermomix a few months ago on a weekly payment plan.
“I’ll get up in the morning while my daughter is getting ready and I’ll make her fresh muffins for school. Is incredible. She has saved me a lot of time. And money.”
“And you know what’s in it!” Bishop interrupts, with enthusiastic approval.
Saiz nods. “I know what my daughter is eating.”
Left to right: Author Celina Ribeiro, Lainie Saiz, Holly Bishop, and Denise McGlinchy watch Hannah Phelps’ Thermomix demo. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian
The conversation veers often to the weather and the kids as Phelps cheerfully directs the two-hour demo. There is concern and guilt about additives, preservatives and what these things do to children. There is concern and guilt for having time to cook well for families, for cooking from scratch in the midst of work and extracurricular days and study. There is a desire to eat healthy for themselves, to lose weight. There is the lack of time to go shopping and the worry about the junk that they could buy in a hurry at the supermarket. And there is faith, the belief that Thermomix can help with everything.
“Never feel guilty,” says Phelps. If you have to buy something with additives for her kids in a hurry, that’s fine, she says. “Don’t feel like you have to go in and do everything from scratch. Yes, you can do it, but will you? She shrugs her shoulders.
Perhaps it is this compassion and passion that makes Phelps one of Australia’s most successful Thermomix consultants. After buying his own device almost four and a half years ago, he now leads a team of 21 consultants in the Sutherland area of Sydney.
Raw Carrot and Beet Salad (chopped in a few seconds on speed seven – you could time it, but Phelps can tell by ear when it’s done); a garlic pizza dough (“look, you’d be kneading that by hand for half an hour”) and a mushroom risotto, which, true to legend, takes 16 minutes, cooked in Phelps’ Thermomix demo. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian
She has nearly 10,000 followers on her Instagram page, Me and My Thermo, and hosts Sunday cookouts on Instagram Live, where she and her followers batch cook for the week ahead. Past clients send you text messages asking for cocktail or meal ideas.
She might have “a pretty good following,” she says, but there are other Facebook groups that are “next level.”
The Thermomix Australia Facebook page has over 330,000 followers. But unofficial pages can also have weight. The appliance has spawned its own Australian superstars who are not directly affiliated with Thermomix, but have developed blogs and countless recipe books based on the appliance. Skinnymixers, run by recipe developer Nikalene Riddel, has 211,000 followers on Facebook. Thermobliss 95,000. Jo Whitton of Quirky Cooking has almost 70,000 followers on Instagram.
So, you know, Thermomixes are awesome and that’s the hill I’ll die on.
“I’ve always joked that the Thermomix is my cult favorite,” says Priscilla Sutton, an art worker speaking to Guardian Australia from Canberra. She has had her Thermomix since 2013.
“I think when you’re a proud Thermomix owner, you don’t deny having one, you have some Thermomix cookbooks, you follow groups on social media, you’re part of that community… I don’t think that community is a cult, I think which is one of the most beautiful communities that has come out of a kitchen appliance strangely,” he says.
The Thermomix ecosystem is “mainly women. It’s mainly the caregivers and moms who are lumped in with the kitchen chores,” says Sutton. “These are women who reach out to other women for support. I think it’s healthy, not just because of the food, but there’s a lot of good mental health behind these groups.
“So, you know, Thermomixes are awesome and that’s the hill I’ll die on.”
Sometimes, he says, people roll their eyes at the mention of the device. When they do, she puffs up with pride and stands up for him. And then, whoever it is that rolls their eyes, she’ll find Sutton start silently handing them little Thermomix treats. “I’ve become a bit of a condiment distributor,” she says, with a particular specialty in vegan Parmesan.
It can get a bad rap, he says, because of the price and because it’s sold in a way that resembles network marketing, where independent consultants are incentivized not just to sell units, but to hire other consultants. Incentives include attending ThermoFest. Before it was cancelled, it was going to be held in Shanghai last year and was attended by Guy Sebastian.
At these ThermoFests, Phelps says, consultants line up for 45 minutes before the conference starts and run around yelling “Woooo!” to the front seats once the doors are opened. Her husband calls them “the Woo Woo girls.”
Consultants like Phelps, who have turned coaches, can also earn commissions on the sales of those they recruit. He’s been to ThermoFests in Italy and Vietnam – top performing consultants can even bring their partners. When Phelps talks about the journeys he’s taken with the company and the feeling of “family” within it, it’s clear to draw a line. “It’s not multi-level marketing,” she says.
The structure doesn’t particularly bother Sutton either. “Do you know what they are mainly? Women who are trying to earn money to support their family. So I can’t hate it, when you look at the bigger scheme of things.”
Lainie Saiz tries a salad prepared in a Thermomix. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian
Back at the Phelps house, Saiz, who has nearly finished her five-year social work degree, is considering becoming a consultant.
Meanwhile, Bishop seems almost sold. Phelps will keep in touch about payment options and the like. However, Bishop’s mother, McGlinchy, could buy this latest version and give the current one to her busy daughter for help. “I have to think about it,” she says.
Just after 2:30 p.m., everyone starts to leave. It’s time to pick up the kids from school. Saiz will pick up Phelps’ children if the latter cannot make it on time. Before leaving, Saiz says clearly and with the faith of a new convert: “I will never regret this decision.”