Catalans Abroad

Alba Sunyer Ollé

from Sallent, and studied in Sant Cugat before opening a physical therapy office in Manresa

Ambassador of cuisine

Why did you leave Catalonia?
We wanted a change of pace after I had an accident that left my arm severely injured and put an end to end my PT career. That was hard, as I thought: “What now?”. Around that time, my husband got a job offer in the US, in Greenville, South Carolina. We lived there for 11 years. And then we moved to Detroit, where we’ve been since 2018.
Are you happy with the job opportunities you found in your adoptive country?
I’m really happy. This country gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself and gave my professional life a clean slate. I was able to rebuilt my career from scratch, out of a passion for Catalan cuisine. So, I came up with the idea of a “Team Building Events” company based on Catalan cuisine, that would allow Americans to have an insight into our culture. The Chamber of Commerce listened to my idea and put me on a Diversity Business Accelerator Program. They also provided a mentor in my area who helped me all the way until my business started running… and all for free.
You are the author of the book ’Àpats/The Catalan Table’. How did it come about?
I wanted to promote Catalan cuisine in the US and so I started writing it during the pandemic. I wanted the book to act as a tool for those Americans who wanted to discover Catalan gastronomy. The intention was to explain who Catalans are, what we eat, our traditions, and agriculture, using the recipe as a “vehicle”.
You got some of the best Catalan chefs to collaborate with your book.
Yes, and I feel so lucky about it! The prologues were by Joan Roca and Toni Massanés. Clara Antúnez, a well-known Catalan sommelier, paired all the recipes with Catalan wines and wrote the tasting notes. She was also a great help in all aspects related to the book. The book was published on March 25 this year. The Catalan version, Àpats, had almost sold out a month after its debut, and the experts’ feedback couldn’t be better.
On your social media, you introduce yourself as a Catalan cuisine advocate in the US. How much is Catalan food known in the United States? Which Catalan dishes or produce do Americans like most?
The majority of Americans don’t know Catalan cuisine at all. Chef José Andrés has been working hard to show Americans what Spanish food is, and he has been successful; what he’s done is amazing. But no one is championing Catalan cuisine. Some people put Catalan food under the same umbrella as Spanish food, but it deserves to be known as a unique entity, with its own history and recipes. Americans love pa amb tomàquet, rossejat de fideus, escudella de carbassa and of course our different ways of cooking rice. In my experience arròs sense feina or arròs del senyoret are two favourites.
You recently claimed that traditional Catalan cuisine is not going through a very good moment. Can you elaborate more on this idea?
Since the world turned into a global place, everybody wants to know and eat other cuisines, but botifarra amb mongetes isn’t cool anymore. There’s nothing wrong with the current trends, but the problem is that we completely forgot about keeping our traditions alive. We all eat ramen and pizza, but what about escudella or coca de recapte? We have to keep cooking and teaching our kids our traditional cuisine. We should spend more time learning from our grandmothers, while we also try and cook other cuisines of course. Our traditional cuisine tells the world who we are, and it’s our identity in this global world. If we lose it, it would be like losing our language.

CATALANS ABROAD detroit (United States)


Where are the best places for visitors to stay in Detroit?
I would recommend staying in downtown Detroit at the Shinola Hotel, The Foundation Hotel, or The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit.
What would you consider the highlights of a brief visit for the first time?
Detroit Institute of Arts, Motown Museum, Hart Plaza, The Henry Ford Museum, Midtown, Fox Theatre, Comerica Park, Campus Martius Park, GM Renaissance Center, River district, Eastern market, Cliff Bell’s Jazz Club. And don’t forget to eat a Coney Island hot dog.
And if visitors have more time or make a return visit?
The Guardian Building, Third Man Records, Fisher Building, Belle Isle, Caesars Arena, Dequindre Cut park, Shinola Store, Detroit River Walk, Charles H Wright Museum of African American History, The Heidelberg Project.
Can you recommend a place to have lunch with friends?
Apparatus Room. Located in the Detroit Foundation Hotel. The space’s original purpose was as a fire station. The open kitchen is located where the firefighters in the past used to prepare their meals. The menu is based on regional flavors in modern American dishes.
Where would you have a special dinner for two?
Freya Detroit. I had an extraordinary multi-course dining experience with high quality ingredients, sourced from some of the most talented farmers, fishmongers, foragers, and butchers in the area. The atmosphere of the place is beautiful and the service was top notch. Chef Dough Hewitt and the pastry chef Ben Robinson really are shooting for the stars. For me, it’s the best place for a special dinner.
When is the best time of year to plan a visit?
Summer, if you don’t like really cold weather. The city can get very chilly in winter.
What is the best kept secret about the area?
The murals of Detroit’s old buildings. High quality murals and street art is abundant in Detroit. The city Walls program began in 2017. It aims to enhance public spaces through murals. The artists that work on the paintings are born and raised in Detroit. Its something that you can’t miss if you visit Detroit, the urban resilience of this city is shown in those murals.
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