Elements of Success

Life-changing weight loss and worldly experiences contribute to a couple’s unique restaurant

Catherine and her husband of 30 years, Jose Luis Pawelek, recently celebrated the first anniversary of their restaurant, Elements Kitchen & Martini Bar, 4950 S. Rainbow Blvd. An even better sign that the pair has made their concept work in Las Vegas is that they received more than a hundred congratulatory cards from loyal customers.

Anthony MairA sampler of Catherine’s low-sugar pastries.

With so many restaurants having to close during these hard times, what is it about this one that has attracted such a large local following? The Paweleks’ “world’s largest martini list,” featuring 318 varieties, may have something to do with it. Or it could be the biscotti and chocolate truffles that Catherine makes for customers to take home after a meal. Mostly they like to think it has to do with Elements’ unique menu, which has been shaped by their collective culinary world experiences.

The most dramatic experience, though, happened right here at home. It’s difficult to believe now, looking at Catherine’s sleek figure, but 10 years ago she weighed 250 pounds. After gastric bypass surgery, she lost 125 pounds and had to limit her intake of fats and processed sugar.

Being part of the restaurant industry, she didn’t want to sacrifice her great love of food. Her pastry chef experience played to her advantage, because she knew what to do to make her desserts both healthful and delicious: “substituting a lot of the sugars with fresh fruits and spices.”

For example, when Catherine makes a strudel, enough for 12 slices, she uses only one and a half tablespoons of brown sugar for the entire dessert. “The sweetness,” she says, “comes from the fresh fruits, cinnamon and light drizzle of ginger sauce.”

Catherine applies that same strategy to her other desserts. “My bread pudding, the cheesecake, the pies, the crème brûlées—all of those are made in house with two-thirds less sugar than the original recipe called for. You might say, ‘Well, it’s not going to taste like a dessert.’ Oh, it will! Because the fruits are sweet and fresh, I might use apple, mango, pear, blueberry, or papaya. … Whatever the fruit is, if it is sweet enough it will give it all the natural sweetness that you need.”

The exotic fruits used in Catherine’s pastries and Jose’s cuisine are a product of their many travels. She is from the Netherlands and Jose is from Argentina, and they met while working on a Caribbean cruise. From that point on, they developed a repertoire of “global cuisine without boundaries,” and the results have been enjoyed in their restaurants over the last two decades.

In one establishment, a country inn they owned in New Hampshire, they made the discoveries for their famous martini list. “One winter, we had a huge blizzard, nobody could get to us and we couldn’t leave the Inn,” Catherine recalls. “So by the end of that season we had 252 martinis, because all my husband and I could do was do a little research and development on the martini side, and that’s how we became known for all those martinis.”

Their healthful way of cooking was developed in the kitchen, however. “Most of chef Jose Luis’ dishes are prepared with olive oil instead of butter,” Catherine says. “And to make his cream soups he uses a spoon of mashed potato instead of heavy cream. But flavor is still essential. It is the little things that we are able to change in our recipes that make a big difference.”

Catherine explains that customers won’t notice a difference in the taste of their food or pastries. “It’s not where we are only a health food kind of a restaurant; we’ve just learned to cook with some healthy thoughts in mind. So you’re getting all the same things you’ve always had, and you don’t miss anything. It’s a nice little plus when you find out, wow, this tasted great and it didn’t have as much sugar or carbs in it as normal.”

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