Living meme/Turkish restaurateur Nusret Gökçe, aka Salt Bae, sparked major controversy this week when he hosted Venezuelan’s authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro for dinner at the Istanbul outpost of his steakhouse Nusr-et, leading over 100 protesters to swarm outside the Miami branch on Wednesday.
A since-deleted Instagram video of the meal showed Gökçe slicing up a $275 steak tableside in his typically flamboyant style for Maduro and his wife Cilia; in another video, Gökçe and Maduro enjoy a cigar together. In another video, Maduro bragged about the “once in a lifetime” experience.
Venezuela is deep in the throes of an economic crisis that started to reach critical levels in 2014, and massive inflation means basic food and household items are out of reach: 90 percent of the population now lives in poverty, and the average citizen lost 24 pounds of body weight in 2017. Meanwhile, Maduro has clung to power, jailing political opponents, interfering in elections, and directing government security forces to use lethal force against protesters.
Around 100 Venezuelans gathered outside the Miami branch of Nusr-Et on Wednesday morning, the Miami Herald reports, chanting in Spanish and holding up signs featuring photos of hungry children and demands for an apology.
In case you were wondering whether there would be protests at the Miami restaurant over #SaltBae hosting Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro in Turkey, here’s your answer. @MiamiHerald @MiamiHeraldFood pic.twitter.com/qjly65zg12— Carlos Frías (@Carlos_Frias) September 19, 2018
Florida senator Marco Rubio put his support behind protesters in a series of tweets condemning the meal and, in particular, Salt Bae for serving a man who is starving his own people.
Passionate but orderly people came to protest #SaltBae in #Miami. Not because he fed a socialist. But because he gleefully promoted himself & his business with a video of him catering to a man carrying out a crime against humanity by systematically starving their loved ones. https://t.co/oJXiS2pgu4— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) September 19, 2018
Though Maduro publicly admitted to having the meal, Gökçe has not responded to requests for comment or confirmation. Simultaneously, his Miami restaurant’s Yelp page is feeling the heat: Protesters are leaving one-star reviews for Gökçe’s food and service, with one writing, “Don’t be a communist-supporting @$$#013 like Salt Bae and don’t eat at his overpriced and overhyped restaurant.”
Gökçe seemingly has a strange affinity for dictators: Last year, he Instagrammed a photo of himself dressed as Fidel Castro, which also drew backlash among Cubans in Miami.