FYIDC: The Zoo’s Culinary Safari

Mingle with the animals at the National Zoo’s foodie adventure.

By John Arundel

Good food and good music are on tap at ZooFari. (Photo by Mark Vanbergh/Smithsonian's National Zoo)

On any given day at The National Zoo, trained zookeepers go about the sometimes complex feeding arrangements of about 400 species.

The tables turn this Thursday, May 17 as zookeepers turn their attention to the human species, several thousand of whom will be streaming in after hours looking to be fed, watered and entertained.

For Zoofari 2012, chefs from more than 100 of the area’s top restaurants will be doing the cooking, leading zoo supporters on a culinary safari from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. of menu items from such renowned eats as Citronelle, Marcel’s, Equinox, 1789 Restaurant and Graffiato. Fifteen vintners will be on hand to cleanse diners’ palates with glasses of wine between bites.

Strolling musicians will also be on hand to spice up the evening with live musical performances. And for those hungry to learn more about the National Zoo from curators and keepers, live animal demonstrations are scheduled to take place between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Returning this year is the zoo-themed cake decorating contest hosted by Top Chef finalists and , as well as , owner of Equinox and Watershed. Teams of pastry students from the Art Institute of Washington will compete for top honors from the judges with the winning team revealed on the Great Meadow at about 9:15 p.m.

Pastry chefs students will vie for best creation this year. (Photo by Mark Vanbergh/Smithsonian's National Zoo)

The zoo’s great cats will be out for a nightcap and on view for a limited number of guests in the VIP LivingSocial Lion Lounge. The Lounge will be a carnival of fun for guests with a sweet tooth. Sugar Magnolia, The Sugar Cube, Hello Cupcake, Firehook Bakery and Dolci Gelati will serve desserts. The lounge will be lavished with specialty cocktails, festive carnival games, a photo booth and live entertainment.

Guests can also bid on exclusive items such as behind-the-scenes tours of the zoo at the ZooFari silent auction from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. For those who can’t wait until the evening, there is also a ZooFari online auction, which includes items such as artwork created by the zoo’s giant pandas and exclusive dining opportunities.

ZooFari benefits scores of Smithsonian National Zoo initiatives, from new and improved exhibits, such as American Trail (opening Labor Day weekend) to conservation and research programs dedicated to the survival of species such as the Asian elephant, tiger and cheetah.

This year’s ZooFari sponsors include Booz Allen Hamilton, Capital One Bank, The Coca-Cola Company, Comcast, GEICO, LivingSocial, MIX 107.3 FM, Washington Life Magazine, NBC4, Rosenthal Jaguar/Land Rover, Washingtonian Magazine, Widmer Brothers and 105.9 WMAL.

Tickets for ZooFari are available through the National Zoo’s website or in any zoo gift shop, and cost $150 for FONZ members and $200 for non-members. Groups can also purchase tables for 10. Tables include tickets for a group of guests, access to the LivingSocial Lion Lounge and valet parking passes.

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