Salt Bae Serves Maduro as Venezuela Suffers

Video footage released Monday showed a performance like the one that launched Nusret Gokce to stardom. But within a matter of hours, Mr. Gokce, a celebrity chef better known as Salt Bae, had deleted the footage after Senator Marco Rubio denounced him on Twitter.

The three Instagram videos, preserved by The Miami Herald, show Mr. Gokce with his hair slicked back, a pair of dark aviators over his eyes and a tight V-neck shirt plunging below his sculpted chest, as he flicks his knife through medium-rare lamb chops at his Istanbul steakhouse.

The theatrical execution of cutting meat and showering it with speckles of salt have made Mr. Gokce an international celebrity chef, who now runs steakhouses in the United States.

But what angered Senator Rubio and others was the identity of the dinner guest being served luxurious cuts of meat: President Nicolás Maduro, the authoritarian leader of Venezuela, where the economy and food supply have crumbled under his rule.

His videos, shared with millions of followers, quickly attracted criticism, notably from Senator Rubio, a Florida Republican, directed at Mr. Maduro, for dining on an extravagant meal while Venezuelans starve, and the chef, for entertaining such a person.

“I don’t know who this weirdo #Saltbae is,” Mr. Rubio wrote, “but the guy he is so proud to host is not the president of #Venezuela.”

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, who dined at Salt Bae’s Istanbul restaurant.CreditFederico Parra/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Rubio, a fierce critic of Mr. Maduro, has tried to guide the Trump administration’s approach toward Latin America. “He is actually the overweight dictator of a nation where 30 percent of the people eat only once a day,” the senator tweeted, and “infants are suffering from malnutrition.”

Not satisfied with just one tweet, Mr. Rubio followed up with four more on the topic on Monday and even more on Tuesday. In one of the tweets on Monday, he shared the phone number for the chef’s steakhouse in Miami, one of two locations in the United States, “in case anyone wanted to call,” said Mr. Rubio, whose state has the largest Venezuelan-American population in the country.

Before long, the videos had been deleted. In the clips preserved by The Herald, Mr. Gokce grips the meat and the knife while wearing black disposable gloves. Mr. Maduro, puffing on a cigar, smiles and laughs. Later, the president admires a shirt the chef presents him. And before Mr. Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, leave the restaurant, the chef and the president embrace in a hug.

The rack of lamb, which Mr. Gokce cut into individual chops, costs $250 at his restaurant in Manhattan. Meanwhile in Venezuela, food prices have skyrocketed to the point where people go without meals and two-thirds of hospitals said in 2016 that they did not have any infant formula for babies.

The virtual uproar seemed to encapsulate something about this bizarre era’s intersection of politics and pop culture. An over-the-top celebrity chef made famous by Instagram had inadvertently exposed the high life of a leader regarded as a despot by his neighbors.

Mr. Maduro already had a reputation as an infamous glutton indifferent to hunger in his country, having once been caught sneaking bits of an empanada while giving a live address on TV.

And then there was the senator, a failed candidate for president of a country that once considered supporting a coup in Venezuela, adopting a tactic used by President Trump, the man who defeated him in the Republican primaries: using Twitter to put his target on blast.


Heeding Mr. Rubio’s suggestion, people have indeed been calling the chef’s Miami outpost, according to a man who answered the phone at the restaurant on Tuesday morning.

“A lot,” he said. “For sure.”

A spokesman for Mr. Gokce’s restaurant group, Nusr-Et, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Tuesday.

Mr. Maduro confirmed during a televised news conference on Tuesday that he had visited a Nusr-Et location in Istanbul after receiving an invitation.

“I’m sending greetings to my friend Nusret: Comrade, I’m coming back to Istanbul soon,” Mr. Maduro said.

He said the chef also accompanied him on a trip to a nearby antiquities museum.

“I sat in the throne of a sultan — ‘the Sultan Maduro,’ they’re calling me now,” Mr. Maduro said.

Imitating the chef’s flick of salt with his right hand, he added, “And look, I learned the technique.”

Nicholas Casey contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A7 of the New York edition with the headline: Chef Draws Ire on Menu For President Of Venezuela