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cubans baking solar pizzas for sale to tourists

an interview with joe froese

in early march '95, canadian joe froese returned from a ten-week project in cuba in cooperation with the federation of cuban women. i interviewed him by telephone at his home in saskatoon:

tom sponheim: tell us about your project.

joe froese: i was in cuba for one month before my construction supplies arrived. in that period of time i just focused on logistical stuff and learned some spanish and spread the word about why i was there. then when the stuff came in i really went to work on the workshop that was provided by the federation of cuban women. it was in the polytechnic building which was supplied by the department of education. the construction materials arrived with the pastors for peace caravan on december 18, but i didn't get my goods until the 5th of january. so in forty days we built forty solar ovens

ts: wow!!

jf: i was supposed to have made fifty-four, but four were supposed to be large institutional cookers and 50 were supposed to be domestic. i wanted to use three for a day-care and one for the hospital. when i got there they said that the energy shortages at the day-care centers had gotten even worse, so they wanted thirty large institutional cookers. i only had materials for a family-size cookers, so i took all my wood frames apart and reassembled them to make larger ovens. i wasn't totally satisfied with them but it was another venture into creativity that i really learned a lot from. those cookers proved to have another twist, they ended up being the choice of the restaurant and tourist industries for making pizza. so now in cuba you can have a solar pizza. cuba wants to take off with solar energy. in cooperation with the national office of inventors technical information i had a solar oven on the beach cooking pizza and chicken. i did a big demo and the woman who ran the restaurant was delighted. but then this restaurant kept it for a month and when i went back to check out this oven that was not being used to the potential that it could be. one thing that we learned: the recycled aluminum [printing] press plates used as reflectors don't stand up as well as i wanted along the ocean; the salt got to them.

ts: oh, so they became less reflective?

jf: they became less reflective and the screws that i was using became corroded. the cubans are such beautiful people and very considerate, but they were huddled around and i'm sure they were saying that this oven was not working the way they wanted it to. "how do we tell joe?" i didn't want to disappoint them so i just figured that i had this one other oven, this really good oven that i call my "cadillac" oven. i had six of these in cuba, just to test them out there as well. i just took it out of the trunk. it was a big family sized unit but good for a demo. i put on these beautiful anodized aluminum reflectors that we have with a plastic body--a really good oven. i set it up and the clouds started parting, i think i might have uttered a prayer or something.

then an important bureaucrat showed up. in cuba there is a bureaucrat who decides who can sell a hot dog on the beach, etc. it is all controlled in a different way than we have in the us or canada. so the one guy who could say that solar ovens are good for the hotel was there; this was the big test. well how do you prove it if the sun isn't shining? in veradera beach normally the sun is shining. the sun started poking its way through and he started liking that oven because it looked really good. you have to have a really good looking oven for tourism. when the temperature raised to about 400� f (200� c) they asked us to make a pizza. the pizza was baked in about 15 minutes. then this guy who worked for the rumbos hotel wrote something down on the back of his card and handed one to the president of anir, leonel gonzalez, and he handed me a card and said he wanted four cookers in this hotel and that hotel and others. it all happened just like that. then after that we went and delivered cookers to pizzerias.

for the first time since in the two and a half months since i arrived in cuba, i had time to go to the beach. finally the cubans themselves were promoting ovens. so that was a breakthrough for me. however, i wasn't satisfied with the day-care ovens. these solar ovens took too long to bring 10 gallons (35 l) or a hundred pounds (45 kg) of mass to cooking temperatures. i wasn't satisfied that it was fast enough for a daycare. you have to have your food cooked by noon. this information is not complete, and they are still doing experiments. i am going back in june specifically just to cook with what i left there.

ts: so you were actually cooking in the winter.

jf: we were cooking in the winter. so the day-cares are not satisfied right now because they wanted an all-out solution to their wood problem and they did not get that yet. i told them that if i was the head chef, i would cook for all these people (200 children and 40 staff ) with about six institutional units. if i was the head cook i would do it daily and see no problems with that. its just a matter of technique and learning.

ts: did they want it all at once?

jf: they wanted it all in one oven, but you can't do that. that's a lot of people. so in a nutshell we did thirteen day-cares and one hospital. the rest were for tourist camping outlets and for domestic homes. the department of health likes them for hospitals because now they can deal with there special needs patients who need more flour products. they are baking bread, desserts, and cakes. after three weeks they were very excited about their use of the institutional oven. in addition the hospital guy presented it to the minister of health and they are reviewing the whole thing to put institutional ovens in all of their institutions. so i'm very happy about the time i spent there. the project went very, very well. i was very satisfied. the cuban people are incredibly intelligent, very skilled.

joe froese can be contacted at freedom cookers international, p.o. box 7103, saskatoon, saskatchewan, s7k 4s1, canada tel: 306/652-1442 fax: 306/665-2128


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