Founded in 2014, Solari is a start-up that has launched the next generation of portable solar cookers. Inspired by their love of the outdoors and passion for the environment, co-founders and designers Bodin Hon and Kevin Johnson created Solari in response to a gap in the market.
Already, Solari has won the most prestigious design awards in Germany (iF Design Award – Student Design 2015) and Italy (Compasso d’oro International Award) which are usually won by companies like BMW and Ferrari. To find out more, we spoke to co-founder Bodin Hon.
1. Tell us about Solari. What inspired its creation?
Solari is a modern-day fuel-free, pollution-free and portable solar cooker which provides an alternative to today’s inefficient, costly and health damaging method of open-fire cooking.
It can cook outdoors using just sunlight, with ease, without using any fuel and without causing any air-pollution. It is designed for recreation use anywhere where the sun is out, whether you are in your backyard, the park or the beach.
We were inspired to solve the lack of solutions for outdoor cooking and to find one that doesn’t pollute the environment. We found out about ‘solar cooker’ solutions used in some remote regions like Nepal, where users can cook using only sunlight, so we started looking at creating a similar cooking device that fitted our modern lifestyle while reducing energy consumption.
2. What challenges did you face developing it?
One of our main challenges was finding out what people wanted from their outdoor experience and then finding the perfect fit of food and technology that could work. Many people want to repeat what they already do, which is to grill, but forget that there are many other ways of cooking which don’t involve high heat. The technology was difficult to perfect as many parabolic solar cookers, we tried, focused on how hot and how quick you can burn something—which is great until a cloud passes over.
To solve this issue we looked at other popular recipes that people enjoy outdoors. It turns out that slow-cooked ‘crockpot’ recipes like pulled pork, beef/seafood stews are just as popular as grill-outs. We found that a ‘slow-cooking’ method using a solar oven actually yielded fantastic results! So we worked on innovating a solar oven.
Another challenge was changing the perception that solar cookers are only for developing countries or ‘hippies’, it is something that is currently considered very unattractive. By creating a great cooking experience and designing it with the same attention and passion as products like the latest smartphone or designer furniture we hope to change the dialogue about this technology.
3. How does it compare to a standard outdoor cooker?
Compared to BBQ and gas stove it is much gentler heating, which means that you can achieve a ‘crock-pot’ style of cooking so that the food keeps more of the nutrients and flavour, as opposed to high heat cooking which tends to overcook and burn.
What is most attractive about Solari is that you can just ‘leave it’ in the sun and go do something else and come back ‘when it is done’. With a fire you have to constantly monitor it or risk burnt food or even worst—hurting someone or causing an environmental accident, which is the reason why most parks and public places actually ban open-fire cooking in the first place.
4. Tell us about the design. How long did it take to create?
The design has gone through many alterations, starting out as a school project in 2014. Since then, I have taken it around to many places (Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, USA) to ask how people feel about cooking with the sun and at the same time creating many prototypes to really test the limits and what you can cook in it.
5. What’s Solari’s dimensions and weight?
Dimension: 30cm x 28cm x 28cm
We’ve used lightweight materials and designed it to be carried by one hand, as it can fold up into a ‘carry-mode’ which you can carry like a bag. It is a great size to store in your trunk and even easy carry on public transportation to your destination. You can also store other food/gear inside before you cook.
6. Who’s your target market and where are you hoping to sell Solari?
Our initial target market are outdoor enthusiasts in the US, Europe, South America, Australia and especially people who are living in sunny cities and looking for more excuses to go and enjoy the outdoors more often.
As the issues surrounding our environment become more prominent the last few years, the world is adapting and adopting more eco-conscious and healthy ways of living such as installing solar panels, driving electric cars and eating organic or vegan food and we wanted to create something for this new way of living by solving the problem of inefficient and polluting outdoor cooking.
Once solar cooking becomes more widely adopted, our vision is to spread it across the globe and especially to developing countries where over 3 billion people today are still cooking and heating on open-fires and families are spending as much as 1/3 of their income on cooking fuel (according to World Health Organization, 2014).
7. What are your plans for 2016?
We are working towards launching a crowdfunding campaign for Solari later this summer. Our vision is to ‘design for a brighter future’, and we will continue to collaborate with companies, manufacturers and organisations to bring more smart, eco-friendly and sustainable products and solutions into the market.
Featured image: Courtesy Solari