Clueless Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe — known as Salt Bae for his theatric salting wrist twist — deserves every ounce of scorn he’s getting in Miami for courting Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro with his $275 steaks.
You have to live in la-la land not to know that the people of Venezuela are literally starving. Children are dying from malnutrition and families are fleeing the country by the hundreds of thousands to any country that will give them food and shelter.
And no, there’s no U.S. embargo to blame — only the disastrous leadership of Maduro, who has run the once oil-rich country into the ground, imprisoned opponents and staged fraudulent elections to remain in power. This, despite months of widespread protests against his regime that cost hundreds of young lives and have sent 2.3 million into exile.
And no, unlike Cuba’s dictatorship, you can’t claim lack of knowledge because this isn’t something that happened 60 years ago.
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The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is playing out under your nose, Salt Bae, and by hosting and lavishing praise on dictators, you, too, become complicit in their abuses.
It’s revolting to watch the Instagram video — posted for his 15.7 million followers — of the chef at his Nusr-Et restaurant in Istanbul showing off his filleting skills and serving luscious chunks of meat to the strongman, who basks in delight with his wife, Cilia Flores.
Deservedly so, Salt Bae will now fry for this in Miami, where he has a restaurant at 999 Brickell Ave. Cuban Americans and Venezuelans are planning to stage a protest Wednesday — and one can only hope customers will stay away forever and teach him a lesson.
This isn’t Salt Bae’s first rodeo paying homage to dictators.
When he opened his Miami restaurant last November, a photo came to light of Salt Bae praising and posing by a portrait of Fidel Castro, dressed up like him and smoking a cigar. He circulated it on Instagram, as he did the Maduro videos, which he has since deleted (but The Herald had downloaded).
All I can say is, too bad the rest of the world doesn’t condemn this clown, too, for his lack of humanity and empathy for the victims of dictatorships.
He should take lessons from another famous chef and restaurateur, Spaniard José Andrés, who instead of cozying up to dictators actually feeds the victims of disasters.
With the help of only a small team from his nonprofit World Central Kitchen, launched in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Andrés fed some 80,000 victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, delivering 3.7 million meals.
And as far as his politics go, he doesn’t have a stomach for autocrats, not even the elected president of the United States.
“He should be ashamed,” Andrés said of President Donald Trump after he questioned the number of dead In Puerto Rico in the aftermath of a disaster to which he was slow to respond.
There’s plenty of need in Venezuela, where nearly a third of the people say they only eat once a day, and 30 percent say they “eat nothing or next to nothing” at least once a week.
The least Salt Bae can do is bring them some relief — and cook for them, too.
No need for showmanship, just food, man.
They’re starving to death.
There’s never a shortage of ignorant fools who don’t understand that the dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela repress people, deny their rights, sink them into poverty and incarcerate opponents for the mere crime of existing and speaking up.
People like Salt Bae have the right to their uninformed opinions, but we don’t have to let it go without showing them that this would be a better world if we all stood up for human rights.
Hitting them in the pocket, where it hurts, is one way of getting the attention of a businessman who presides over a $1.5 billion restaurant empire that spans continents.
You can claim ignorance once, but not twice in the same hemisphere.
For praising Castro and kissing up to Maduro with his signature steak dinner while Venezuelans starve and flee, Salt Bae deserves at the very least to be left without customers in Miami.
Follow Santiago on Twitter, @fabiolasantiago