Wednesday, February 9, 2005 On Food: Welcome to the Alton Brown-Thermomix show By HSIAO-CHING CHOU SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER FOOD WRITER Back in December, I wrote about the Thermomix, the ultimate kitchen appliance that's supposed to make all your other small electrics obsolete. This contraption grinds, chops, warms, blends, weighs, steams, stirs, kneads, pulverizes and a number of other tasks for a $1,000 price tag. My conclusion was that I'm not convinced I need one of these machines -- not that I begrudge anyone else from having one. The Thermomix is wildly popular in Europe, where famous chefs sing its praises. A woman from the New Orleans area found my story online and sent me an e-mail saying that I didn't give the Thermomix enough credit. Her aunt in Spain gave her an old Thermomix, which she lugged -- all 18 pounds of it -- through international airports home to the Big Easy. "My aunt has been cooking with her Thermomix machine for the past four years. She uses the machine every day, all day to cook for her family of five." She continues in her e-mail: "I have learned how to make homemade soy milk, homemade vanilla and chocolate pudding, quince preserve, lasagna, red beans and rice, chocolate truffles, homemade yogurt ... the list goes on." (To be clear, the machine doesn't actually bake lasagna or make chocolate truffles. It helps in some of the steps, such as mixing the tomato sauce or melting the chocolate.) She loves her machine. Good for her. Of course, her Thermomix was a gift. I also made the comment in my column that if anyone could sell the Thermomix to Americans, it would be Food Network celebrity Alton Brown, who emphasizes the importance of good, though not necessarily expensive, gear. Brown stopped in Seattle a couple of weeks ago to promote his latest cookbook, "I'm Just Here for More Food" (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 304 pages, $32.50). If you want to read an interview related to the book, visit www.altonbrown.com and click on "New Book." It's a Q&A on Alton Brown by Alton Brown, which is quintessential Brown. I thought I would do a little matchmaking, so to speak. Brown had never tried a Thermomix. He had heard of the machine but didn't want to drop a grand on one to test. I called Chris Keyser, whom I wrote about in my previous Thermomix article, to ask if he and his partner, Steve Casteele, would be willing to let Brown try their machine. "Are you kidding?" was Keyser's response. advertising Click to learn more... On the appointed night, everyone gathered in my tiny kitchen to see if sparks would fly between Brown and the Thermomix. As Keyser and Casteele explained the basic operation of the machine, Brown slipped into a serious face, absorbing the information. Then, he kicked into action, opening the refrigerator to look for items to toss into the belly of the Thermomix. Like a mad scientist, and wearing a frilly blue linen apron, he put carrots, celery, garlic, wine, a potato, parsley and some chicken stock into the machine and turned it on. As it whirred, he asked, "This is insured, right?" Brown futzed with the clear plastic stopper to the feed hole in the lid. There was nothing to secure it to the lid, so it jiggled as the machine vibrated. "This is a serious design flaw," he said. Meanwhile, the brew in the Thermomix became stranger. Brown threw in some Chinese sausage, which I had sliced for dinner later. He dug through the pantry and fished out a bag of lentils, a package of ramen noodles, a package of instant oatmeal with flaxseeds, and some barbecued potato chips. I asked Brown if he has a specific procedure he follows when he tests new equipment. "You'd like to think so, wouldn't you?" he replied. Then he dumped the pantry items into the humming Thermomix. A few more ladlefuls of chicken broth joined the mix. "Those Germans," Brown said, shaking his head. "(The Thermomix) would be really great for making lemon curd. If I had eight sticks of butter and some sugar, I'd say go for it. "Custard ice cream bases would work, too. This would take all the guesswork out of it. I don't know that I would pay $1,000 to stir custard, though." We all stared at the machine as it churned. Since the pitcher is stainless steel, we had no idea what was going on inside. "All right, I'm turning the dial to 11," Brown said. Then he hit the turbo button, which sent the machine into convulsions. "Can you hear it?" I looked at him in response to his sarcasm. "Me neither," he said. After about 20 minutes of "cooking," Brown tasted the results. He added some white pepper, red pepper flakes, curry powder. We all sampled the concoction, which resembled a pureed soup. It didn't taste as bad as we thought it might, considering what went into it. I thought it resembled a diluted Thai peanut sauce in flavor. Someone else said it was like split pea soup. "I think with some acid, maybe a little vinegar, it would be good," Brown said as he picked up a bowl of dipping sauce I had made for pot stickers. He poured the contents into the "soup." We tasted again. The rice vinegar and soy sauce did add a nice dimension. "I wanted to give it culinary validity," Brown quipped. At the end of the evening, Brown reiterated what he had said earlier that he wouldn't spend $1,000 on the machine -- even though he'd love to have one to play with. Maybe a long-lost aunt from Spain will give him hers. P-I food writer Hsiao-Ching Chou can be reached at 206-448-8117 or [email protected].