Central Park Zoo was transformed on Saturday, July 27, into an enchanted garden; the light from lanterns played on the pools of water and on the leaves clinging to the buildings. The occasion was the Swiss National Day (SND) celebration to benefit the Swiss Benevolent Society of New York. The family-friendly event featured a program of activities celebrating Swiss heritage through food, wine, music and even science. A raffle and silent auction enticed the crowd with a grand prize of round-trip tickets for two to Switzerland on Swiss International Air Lines and an eight-day rail pass. Organizations, clubs, vendors and sponsors set up booths in the “Swiss Village.”
The affair’s 1,500 guests were taken on a culinary journey by Swiss celebrity chef, Chef Reto Mathis, who brought the flavors of Switzerland to Central Park Zoo. He pointed out that each dish was exemplary of traditional Swiss cuisine and Swiss comfort food— meaty grilled bratwurst, tiny cheese tarts, creamy mushroom risotto and hearty veal Zurichoise. The desserts were just as tempting, with tangy fruit tarts, chocolaty Toblerone mousse and traditional carrot cake. A sampling of wines from Swiss vineyards completed the experience.
The eclectic mix of live music switched from Yodeling to pop music with duo Leo & Walter and DJ Alexandre Segal. The music prompted dancing throughout the venue, in the Nespresso VIP lounge and under the large tents decorated with Swiss flags.
Staging the event in Central Park Zoo was in keeping with a theme of SND; people connecting with nature. “Tradition in Switzerland is to celebrate outside in a meadow,” event organizers say, “Central Park Zoo is the perfect outdoor venue in center of [the] city.” The zoo also offered opportunities for fun science and nature-oriented activities. Kids and adults alike swarmed to see the sea lion feeding demonstration as the summer sun was setting. Just before dark, the group was treated to the American premiere of the ballbot, Rezero. The Rezero robot, created by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, rolls on a single ball and uses scanners to sense obstacles in its path.
This year’s event, with its food and wine program, celebrity chef, more activities, and more sponsors, was bigger and better than previous years when it had been “more of a folk fest, or party of the people.” Yet its purpose remained the same: for the Swiss, Swiss-Americans and friends to gather and raise funds for the Swiss Benevolent Society which has served New York’s Swiss community for 160 years. Saturday’s event was successful in increasing “awareness and benefits of SBS’s scholarships and social services,” as well as bringing together the community.