Restaurant News & Reviews

First he praised Castro. Now ‘Salt Bae’ chef lavishes Venezuela’s Maduro with steak dinner

Chef “Salt Bae” prepares food for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Turkish chef Salt Bae received Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores at his restaurant in Istanbul. Videos posted to social media show him preparing food for Maduro.
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Turkish chef Salt Bae received Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores at his restaurant in Istanbul. Videos posted to social media show him preparing food for Maduro.

First the chef known as Salt Bae riled Cuban Americans by dressing up in honor of the late dictator Fidel Castro.

Now Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe, the man who became a meme by sprinkling salt over manhandled meat, has incensed the internet again, this time by hosting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as that country grapples with widespread food scarcity.

In three since-deleted Instagram video posts to his 15.7 million followers, Gökçe, who has a restaurant in Miami, performs his usual routine at his Nusr-Et restaurant in Istanbul. He slaps and flips sides of cooked meat for the visiting Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores — sprinkling it with the flourish that earned him tacit internet fame. The Miami Herald downloaded the video before it was deleted.

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In it, Maduro smiles and laughs while smoking a cigar as Gökçe finishes the meat— “Look how he salts it!” someone says off camera. Gökçe later presents Maduro with a T-shirt of himself sprinkling salt, draping it over the leader like a bib.

As Maduro feasted, his country starves, according to several recent reports. Nearly a third of Venezuelans say they regularly eat only once a day and nearly 30 percent say they ate “nothing or close to nothing” at least one day a week, according to a poll by Meganalisis. The country also faces a mass exodus, as an estimated 2.3 million have fled to live abroad because of the current government instability, according to the United Nations.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is of Cuban-American descent, tweeted the video with the telephone number to Gökçe’s Miami restaurant.

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There was no such scarcity of food in Gökçe’s video Monday.

Gökçe slices blushing medium-rare lamb chops for Maduro with a flick of his knife. At his Miami restaurant by the same name, the signature Tomahawk steak — the item that will coax Gökçe over to finish tableside — costs $275. Both restaurants are part of Gökçe’s reported $1.5 billion restaurant empire that spans several continents.

“Nusr-Et is just another steakhouse (and a very expensive Instagram photo),” Miami Herald restaurant reviewer Jodi Mailander Farrell wrote in March. “It will take more than a viral flick of the wrist for it to survive in this town.”

In Istanbul, Maduro ended his meal with a hearty embrace of Gökçe.

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It was less than a year ago that Gökçe incited similar backlash when he figuratively embraced another self-appointed Latin American leader. Video surfaced of Gökçe dressing up like Fidel Castro on Instagram just days after opening his Miami restaurant. He posed in a beret with a cigar beside the image of Castro, the photo captioned, “They said you started a revolution, too.”

In the video Monday, Maduro hugged Gökçe and told him, “I’ll see you soon in Caracas.”

Carlos Frías is the James Beard award-winning Miami Herald food editor. Contact: 305-376-4624; @carlos_frias
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