Elias Solis: Yambu
Elias’ South American heritage shines through in the irresistible flavour and music on offer at Yambu
The music and flavours of his South American homeland are palpable when you meet Elias Solis. Thirty years after arriving in Tasmania as a baby in 1988, he continues to share his culture with those around him.
Elias and his family came to Tasmania as political refugees from Chile. Despite being so far from their homeland, it became a family tradition to share their South American roots with those around them. At just nine years old Elias joined the Arauco Libre band, an ensemble that has become a much loved Salamanca Market attraction.
“I grew up with Dad playing every Saturday,” smiles Elias. “At most there were ten of us, including my father, cousins and uncles. We loved it.”
“One day we were missing a drummer. Next, Dad tells me “you gotta play!”, I did a terrible job from memory, but that was the beginning of my love for percussion.”
From that day, Elias committed a decade to learning how to express his culture through South American music, while also completing a marketing degree at the University of Tasmania.
He went to Brazil and later to Cuba to study Afro-Cuban percussion. He then became an event producer, bringing bands to Tasmania and hosting large scale events such as Hobart’s first Day of the Dead festival on top of an inner city car park. By day he worked in a marketing office, but it was the evenings that he craved most when he could focus fully on events.
“When a café lease came up for grabs in the Hobart CBD, I had ten days to decide. I saw this as an opportunity to extend my love of hosting, sharing my culture through South American food and music,” explains Elias. “Yambu opened its doors in September, 2017. I’d never worked in hospitality so it was a steep learning curve.”
Elias’ vision to build a real community around his culture involved long hours and a big commitment from him and his father who handcrafted every chair and table in their new venue. Yambu became home to live music events and a hearty menu of South American favourites – firmly cementing Latin culture in the heart of Hobartians. When Elias closed the doors in early 2019 for a short time so he could focus on working at major festivals and events, his followers came too.
“At Dark Mofo this year, it was heartening that so many in our long lines were loyal fans. We got smashed and smashed it!” Elias laughs. “We are very barbecue focussed now. Our Patagonian lamb was huge – slow cooked whole lamb that takes about six hours. As we’d portion it up it would be sold. We simply couldn’t keep up.”
Elias will soon be bringing his barbecue, free range pork sausages and more to local markets in Hobart. He also plans on taking his flavours across Australia. Before then he will set off on another South American research mission where his focus will be food and family.
“What’s really interesting is that where I am going in the south of Chile, the ingredients are very similar to those here in Tasmania. It dates back to a time when the continents were connected,” explains Elias. “But food over there is incredibly different. They have a style of hangi, or underground cooking, that I’d like to learn more about. There is also a very strong focus on seafood – they use kelp a lot too – dried and shaved and used as a flavour. They have the same species of bull kelp as Tasmania and other similarities such as bountiful mussels and abalone. I’m looking forward to returning with new skills to apply to our local Tassie produce.”
From smoking chillies in the traditional way to vegan seaweed salads, Elias has exciting menus planned using only sustainable ingredients available at local markets. He will also continue his collaboration with the burgeoning Aboriginal street food scene, having already spent time on local foreshores with Tasmanian palawa Aboriginal community members foraging shellfish for South American style dishes.
Elias will be posting regularly about his Chilean discoveries on Yambu’s Facebook and Instagram so that others can follow his adventures. Don’t be surprised if the posts are sprinkled with downtime hitting Latin bongos and his new found Brazilian instrument, a musical bow known as a berimbau!
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