Sat, May 13, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Thai chef’s solar-run chicken cooker draws crowds

AFP, PHETCHABURI, Thailand

Food vendor Sila Sutharat moves a cartload of chicken into position to be cooked by an array of mirrors on his property in Petchaburi Province, Thailand, on Thursday last week.

Photo: AFP

Not many chefs don a welding mask before they enter the kitchen, but Sila Sutharat prefers to cook his chicken sunny side up.

Two hours south of Bangkok this 60-year-old roadside vendor has found an ingenious way to offer his customers something a little different by harnessing the power of the sun.

Using a large wall of nearly 1,000 moveable mirrors — a device he designed and built himself — he focuses the sun’s rays onto a row of marinated chickens sizzling away under the intense heat.

His unusual culinary methods raised a few eyebrows when he first hit upon the idea.

“They said that I’d gone mad, that cooking chicken like this was impossible,” he told reporters next to his stall, the row of sun-drenched chickens behind him too bright to look at for any length of time.

“After a long time passed by, they’d say: ‘Actually, you could do it,’” he added.

That is because the the solar reflector generates intense heat, easily enough to match an oven, with a sunshine-baked chicken taking just 12 minutes to cook through.

For much of the past 20 years Sila grilled in relative obscurity for a fairly local crowd, but after videos of his solar-cooker went viral online, people from across Thailand have flocked to his stall in Phetchaburi Province.

Sila said the idea came to him in 1997 when he was struck by the heat reflecting off a passing bus.

“I thought: ‘With this heat reflecting from the window from the sun, I could possibly change it into energy,’” he said.

Sila said that compared with a traditional charcoal grill — which he used before his solar epiphany — his meat is more tender and evenly cooked.

And given Thailand’s sweltering tropical climate, the sun is a free, clean and totally sustainable source of energy.

“At the time, energy such as petrol and gas were becoming more expensive and suppliers were also running out of wood to sell,” he said. “I thought if I used solar energy, I could save a lot. And it also decreases pollution.”

Sila and his wife, Pansri, cook about 40 chickens — as well as several sides of pork — each day.

“We’ve been eating here for a long time,” said regular patron Thanyarat Kaewpaleuk, who was tucking into lunch with her husband. “It’s delicious. His chicken is fatty, it’s not burned and doesn’t smell like a charcoal grill, which you can smell on the meat.”

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