Interview with Chef Joel Finsel of Astral Plane – Philadelphia, PA

May , 2004

Pamela Lewy:: What drew you to restaurants and, in particular, to mixology?
Joel Finsel: My parents owned a bar when I was growing up and I hung out there during the day. My older brother was also a bartender. I started out in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher when I was 16, but I hated it. When I turned 18, I took a two-week course in mixology. I liked working behind the bar because it gave me an opportunity to meet new and interesting people.

PL: Since you mostly work nights, what do you do during the day?

JF: I am also a writer. I’ve already published a biography of 20th century artist Franz Klein and I am currently working on my second book.

PL: What are some current trends you’ve seen in the cocktail market? How have trends changed?

JF: There are many different kinds of vodkas these days. Martini’s aren’t just made with gin anymore. I think clichés are breaking down and people are beginning to try new drinks. With all the new products on the market, there are many opportunities to be creative with drinks.

PL: What goes into creating a new cocktail?

JF: When a customer is undecided, I get a chance to experiment with their tastes and then play around with different drinks according to their tastes. Astral Plane is pretty liberal, so I can taste different drinks and see how they work. I also let customers guide my drinks by getting their opinion on drinks I am working on.

PL: What inspires you when creating a new drink?

JF: My environment and place of work helps my creativity. I like working in an open and fun environment. This inspires me. Astral Plane is very colorful and bold, so it helps me stay in a creative mindset. I also work with many artistic people who motivate me as well.

PL: What is your favorite cocktail to drink? To make?

JF: I usually like bourbons and beer. All drinks are fun to make.

PL: Where do you see yourself in five years?

JF: I’d like to be traveling around the world writing novels or possibly teaching. I’d also like to own a wine bar and café someday.