The Bellini Kitchen Master from Cedarlane wants to be known as a budget Thermomix, but the truth is it’s much closer to the All-Clad Prep and Cook, which we reviewed last year. Similar all-in-one machines with a zillion functions are fairly new to the United States market, though the Thermomix has been found in Europe and elsewhere for decades.
All three machines take up a lot of counter space but also say to you, “Don’t worry, you’ll use me for everything.” Let’s examine the truth in that, shall we?
First, the functions
Your blender can blend and maybe make soup. Your food processor chops and maybe also makes nut butter. Your slow-cooker slowly cooks. Your kitchen scale probably doesn’t exist if you’re American. An all-in-one – known as a multi-cooker — is supposed to do all of these functions in one device. According to the manufacturers specs, these devices do these things:
Bellini: Blends, chops, cooks, crushes ice, fries, kneads, minces, stirs, steams, and whips.
All-Clad: Chops, cooks, crushes ice, kneads, mixes, slow cooks, steams, stir fries, stirs, and whips.
Thermomix: Blends, chops, cooks, emulsifies, grinds, heats, kneads, mixes, steams, stirs, weighs, and whips.
As you can see, on each list there are a lot of words that are synonyms for various methods of cutting, cooking, or turning stuff from a chunky consistency smooth. None of these is a full replacement for an oven, so don’t expect to bake brownies in them.
Each appliance comes with a base, stainless steel mixing bowl, and so much more. The appliances can’t steam without baskets or whisk without butterfly attachments, after all. Here’s a list of accessories for each:
Bellini: A kitchen scale, whisk, spatula, steaming set (three trays and a lid), two-liter-capacity (about 8.5 cups) mixing bowl, cooking basket (for meatballs, potatoes, etc.), chopping blade, stirring blade, lid with removable measuring cup, and base. Its dimensions are 18 by 12 by 20 inches.
All-Clad: A knife blade, whisk, mixer, kneading/crushing blade, steam basket, 2.6-quart-capacity (about 10.4 cups) mixing bowl, and base. Its dimensions are 12.2 by 14.2 by 12.2 inches.
Thermomix: A whisk, spatula, steaming set (two trays and a lid), 2.2-liter-capacity (about 9.3 cups), cooking basket, chopping-and-stirring blade, lid with removable measuring cup, and base. Its dimensions are 13.4 by 12.8 by 12.8 inches.
One of the main differences with gear is the All-Clad has the smallest footprint, but that means it can’t steam as much, either. The Thermomix has an integrated scale and its blades do most of the mixing and chopping, though you’ll need the whisk for some recipes. The All-Clad’s multiple blades attach to a spindle inside the bowl and are easy to swap in and out. With the Bellini, there’s a latch on the bottom of the bowl, so if you’re switching blades mid-recipe, you’ll have to dump out whatever it’s holding before making the change. Also, we found these two blades very difficult to tell apart, even when they were side by side.
The recipes and buttons
If you’ve never used one of these machines before, it can be a bit tricky to dive in. While we’re used to baking by degrees, making soup or browning onions at a specific temperature isn’t how most of us learned how to cook. Add to that needing to know how to set the time and speed so you don’t over-dice carrots, and it amounts to needing really good guidance from these machines.
The Bellini has a pretty straightforward interface. There are three dials: speed (settings 1 through 10), time (up to 90 minutes, with one-second intervals for the first minute and 30-second intervals thereafter), and temperature (100 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 to 100 degrees Celsius, plus steam). When you have all that set, you hit the start button. There’s also a pulse button. In the included booklet, there are around 95 recipes, plus a table with steaming times for vegetables, seafood, and chicken. There are a few video online, and the company wants you to follow its “Bellini Brigade” on Facebook. Though it sounds like a brunch group, it’s actually just people who own the machine and make their own recipes.
With a more colorful and complex display, the Prep & Cook may look a little more intimidating. It has six program buttons (sauce, soup, simmer, steam, pastry, and dessert) that automatically set the stirring speed, temperature, and time. There are three buttons for manually adjusting time, temperature, and speed as well. The All-Clad heats to between 90 and 270 degrees Fahrenheit (about 32 to 132 degrees Celsius) in five-degree increments. In five-second intervals, you can set the timer for up to two hours. There are 12 stirring speeds available. In addition to some online recipes, the Prep & Cook booklet has over 300 foods you can make.
Everything on the Thermomix is controlled by a dial and its touchscreen. From the home screen, you can set time (up to 99 minutes in 30-second intervals after the first minute, which you can select to the second), temperature (100 degrees to 250 degrees Fahrenheit or about 37 to 121 degrees Celsius, plus a steam setting), and speed (10 options). Because it’s been around so long, there are a lot of Thermomix, shall we say, enthusiasts, so it’s easy to find recipes. However, the Thermomix’ new Cook Key can connect the machine to your Wi-Fi, letting you download recipes from all over the world. It does come pre-loaded with more than 150 recipes, and the membership for new recipes is $39 a year.
The way the recipes work is a bit different; you advance through the screens, adding ingredients as you go and letting the machine do the work in between. It might ask you to add 12 ounces of onion, for example, and the scale would calculate as you added; once you got to the next screen, it might have the time and speed set to appropriately dice them. Then you might go on to add some oil, then get a screen with the cooking settings selected, and so on.
The goal of these machines should be getting you to translate your own recipes to its way of cooking as quickly as possible, not tying you to the manufacturer’s booklet forever. Charts of cooking times are helpful, but many times it feels like the community takes on the bulk of the responsibility in figuring out how to make these multi-cookers work for them. Thermomix’s deep well of recipes is mostly due to its long lifespan, but the step-by-step nature does help users get acquainted with its functions as well. The Prep & Cook’s pre-programmed buttons can make it easier to go off-book, since the included guide explains how to use each; you can hit the pastry button three times, for example, once for breads, twice for brioches, and three times for cakes.
Still, we find that these recipes almost always need some tweaking. Either five seconds wasn’t long enough to dice or 15 minutes of steaming left our asparagus mushy. This is definitely a potential pitfall for newer cooks, who may need to rely more heavily on the communities for guidance.
Price and final thoughts
Bellini: $400 on Amazon
By far the cheapest option, the Bellini still had some quirks that we found frustrating. The bowl was difficult to both remove and lock into place, and the same was true of the lid. We often had to tug with a lot of force, and that made us nervous when it was full of hot liquid. While we don’t mind the bare-bones approach of the display, there didn’t seem to be a good way to “graduate” to our own recipes. It’s also the biggest machine and has the most accessories.
All-Clad: $900 on Amazon
The Prep and Cook saves you a bit on storage space over the other two. Its pre-programmed settings are its strongest feature, as they give you more hands-off time. Some steps combine the chopping and the browning without you having to hit a “next” button, for example. Still, those options will give you an idea of what you’ll be making most with this machine: soups, sauces, doughs, and batters. It’s versatile, but quantities of what you’re steaming will be limited, as it only comes with a basket that fits inside the bowl.
Thermomix: $1,448 at Thermomix
Once upon a time, you could only buy a Thermomix through a consultant, but it’s available through the company’s website now. It’s obviously the priciest and comes with a fair amount of accessories. It has the benefit of a long existence and global community who share recipes and tips. With its follow-along touchscreen, it does offer a more seamless introduction to the multi-cooker world. Even if you don’t want to pay an annual fee for Wi-Fi-delivered recipes, you’ll get a six month trial to download and test out some dishes from lots of other countries. The biggest drawback is obviously the price.