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Here Comes the Sun (and the First Course): The Solar Kitchen

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Tue, May 31, 2011 at 11:00 AM
What does a solar kitchen have in common with the pop-up restaurant, the foraging party, and the neighborhood butcher shop? They're all artistic statements, necessities and practicalities born of economic and environmental circumstances that have become, for one reason or another, celebrated, viable conduits for expression and meaning. At Milan's Design Week back in April, Catalan designer Martí Guixé, Finnish food adventurer Antto Melasniemi and Lapin Kulta Beer joined forces to unveil Lapin Kulta Solar Kitchen, a new traveling solar restaurant concept that will tour Europe's toastiest cities all summer long.

We write this from Kentucky, where late May is a breeze-less crucible. We see white suits and seersucker. Men and women mop their faces with handkerchiefs, and children bear tell-tale red blotches under each eye. Welcome to sun damage city, where skin becomes jerky and the heat goes on and on and on. It was here where we, as a child, once witnessed a friend attempt to cook an egg on a patch of sun-blasted asphalt. On that occasion, a day in mid-August, nature's oven worked well enough, if fairly slowly. Currently in vogue, less rudimentary solar ovens are capable of speedier, more expressive cooking. The technology has been employed by missionaries, non-profits, and government organizations in places like Senegal and Burkina Faso, where solar bakeries can keep whole villages full of bread without burning through forests of firewood--reducing the environmental toll and labor associated with gathering.

If you're traveling in Europe this summer though, scoping Byzantine ruins in Greece perhaps, or hiking the GR5 in France, that smoke you see spiraling lazily in the distance may not be a mirage, but lunch. And art. At the Lapin Kulta Solar Kitchen, the menu includes insight into humanity's relationship with the unpredictable forces of nature, a re-imagining of mealtime conventions, and, at least on the day captured in the video embedded above, beef (we think) with salsa verde, salad, and asparagus spears topped with Pecorino shavings and eggs. Of course, the latter were not fried messily on the sidewalk, but instead poached delicately and expertly in a pot cupped in a mirrored half-dome.

This is not raw food, weird food, or even, if looks can be any basis for judgment, bad food, which may have something to do with its success. A kid can bake an egg into the sidewalk. A gentle burner may dry a spelt-lentil hoecake in his backyard. But an appealing, delightfully normal meal conjured from big metal bubbles and an afternoon of rays? How daring.

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