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 foreign media agencies 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’s because the solar reflector generates intense heat, easily enough to match an oven, with a sunshine-baked chicken taking just twelve minutes to cook through.
For much of the last 20 years, Sila grilled in relative obscurity for a fairly local crowd.
But after videos of his solar cooked went viral online, people from across Thailand have flocked to his stall in Phetchaburi province.
Sila says 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 says that compared to 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 energy source.
“At the time, energy such as petrol and gas was becoming more expensive and suppliers were also running out of wood to sell,” he recalled.
“I thought if I used solar energy, I could save a lot. And it also decreases pollution.”
Sila and his wife Pansri now cook around 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.”