In Phetchaburi, about two and a half hours south of Bangkok, roadside vendor Sila Sutharat offers chicken with a side of solar power in a grand, visual display. Using a curved wall of nearly 1,000 moveable mirrors, he concentrates sunshine onto a row of marinated chickens. Under the beams, sizzling a bird to perfection takes 12 minutes.
The wall of mirrors saves money, pollutes less, puts on a good show, and—according to the inventor-chef—makes for more tender, evenly-cooked chicken. But beyond praise and patrons, the innovator’s device earned him an honorary science degree from a local university. On being asked about the distinction in an interview with Ozy, Sutharat replied with a smile, “I was so very proud, because I barely even finished fourth grade.”
Sutharat designed and constructed the massive panels himself, after feeling the sun’s heat reflected onto him from a passing bus. Although he usually barbecued his gai yang, a popular Thai chicken dish, on a traditional charcoal grill, he decided to try harnessing the sun’s energy instead. At the time, fuel sources such as gas and petroleum had also become increasingly expensive, and wood suppliers were experiencing shortages.
Over the last two decades, Sutharat has maintained his solar grill business by cooking for a mostly-local customer base. People from Thailand and farther afield only began flocking to his operation after videos of his apparatus in action went viral online. He now offers pork trotters, in addition to poultry.