We’re surrounded by classical music playing as artworks by the artist Monet envelop us. Families sit in a trance-like state and nearby, a baby giggles as he plays among the digital flowers. It’s the second year of THE LUME Indianapolis, and year five and counting of Lindsay Jo Whirley’s culinary innovations that complement Newfields’ museum exhibits and have captured the attention of Indy families, couples, and children alike.
“People are here to see the artwork. As the Assistant Culinary Director, the food and beverages are just the cherry on top,” Lindsay Jo smiles.
Joining the team at Newfields under the direction of current West Fork Whiskey Co. director Joshua Ratliff, former Newfields hospitality director, Lindsay Jo was only 25 when she came on board, first as an Operations Manager, and now, as the Assistant Director of Culinary Operations.
“I’m so grateful — Josh really gave me the opportunity as a young woman to create and build upon what he had created, which is rather unheard of,” she says.
With the well-known infrastructure of the famed Winterlights festival in place, the project appealed to Lindsay Jo’s European senses, harkening back to her travels to Paris, Germany, and Belgium, filled with fine appreciations of all sorts of alcohol, but especially beer.
“I didn’t intend to get into restaurants. It was a happy accident, to be honest,” Lindsay Jo says.
Initially studying pre-law at Indiana University, Bloomington, a stint as a bartender at Bloomington’s popular Finch’s Brasserie evolved into a managerial role, one that carried on for a few years. Lindsay Jo eventually moved over to Big Woods, a place where she learned to handle high-volume orders and where she got noticed by Ratliff, who eventually persuaded her to join the Newfields team.
As for the food that is currently being offered at the museum, Lindsay Jo describes her intent this way: “There are two focuses, really: giving everyone something to enjoy, from children’s options to vegan and vegetarian-focused dishes in every culinary aspect that we direct, and featuring local businesses as much as possible.”
Of course, there’s champagne and lager from France, all meant to evoke an authentic feel to the artwork that surrounds us, but as we tuck into a spread of what’s offered, I notice that almost everything promotes local favorites: coffee from Tinker Coffee Co. is used to create a craft cocktail essayed expertly by the mixologist, while pastries from Circle City Sweets, addictive cookies from lesser-known Cookie Please, popcorn from the ladies at Just Pop In!, and exquisite macarons from Gallery Pastry Shop keep the cocktails flowing.
And that’s just scratching the surface of items available at Café Lumiere, THE LUME’s partner cafe on the 4th floor, just adjacent to the exhibit. Lindsay Jo tells us the more extravagant innovations lie in The Beer Garden, her baby, so-to-speak, at Newfields, and for the really celebratory events such as The Harvest Festival and the annual Winterlights. Some of her own favorites include brews and drinks from Sun King Brewery, Half Liter BBQ & Beer Hall, Guggman Haus Brewing Co., Metazoa Brewing Co., Ash & Elm Cider Co., and her predecessor’s West Fork Whiskey Co.
“We really just have fun with it: I didn’t come from the museum world but now that I’m here, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Compared to the for-profit ventures I was part of before, there’s a certain creative liberty I feel and the museum department is amazing in giving us the space to create with food and beverage in a way that plays with the artwork on display,” Lindsay Jo says.
Most food and drink, she says, can be carried through THE LUME Indianapolis’ ongoing “Monet & Friends Alive” exhibit while one takes in the artwork, and she urges audiences to come back for the events to come.
“Each year, there’s something new. Even THE LUME is only two years old, and we’re constantly trying to bring something different and exciting to the table.”
One of Indiana’s only three female Cicerones, or certified beer experts, she’s consciously highlighting women-owned businesses and women brewers as well.
“We just really love to uplift each other while highlighting local finds — after all, that’s what creates a sense of community and puts Indiana on the map.”
While THE LUME Indianapolis’ former Van Gogh exhibit was full of high-energy visuals and sound, Lindsay Jo calls the current Monet exhibit more calming, an ethos reflected in the cafe that has a casual, come-as-you-please feel to it.
“It’s what people want and honestly, it’s evocative of the Parisian cafes.” Sipping on a tonic spritzer that has me feeling very Parisian, I can’t help but agree.
As we wrap up, it’s evident that Lindsay Jo is far from done.
“I hope that people attend the ‘Monet & Friends’ exhibit but visit the Beer Garden as well — I hope that they come for the artwork, stay for the food, and discover the magic of Indianapolis along the way.”
THE LUME Indianapolis Featuring Monet & Friends Alive is currently on display at Newfields. Tickets can be purchased at www.discovernewfields.org.
Lavanya Narayanan is an Indianapolis-based journalist who’s always on the lookout for the next best bite. When she’s not out restaurant-hopping, she loves experimenting with friends in the kitchen and has a special affinity in her heart for Starbucks, Twizzlers, and Diet Coke.
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