- Yusnaby Pérez/Twitter
- Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro ate at the viral chef Salt Bae’s restaurant in Istanbul on Monday.
- Food at the restaurant, Nusr Et, is very expensive.
- At the same time, Venezuela is struggling through hyperinflation, power cuts, and food shortages.
- Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida slammed Salt Bae – whose real name is Nusret Gokce – for serving Maduro.
Venezuela’s president feasted on expensive steak at a celebrity chef’s restaurant on Monday, a scene made striking by the fact that millions of people back home are starving.
President Nicolás Maduro was seen dining with his wife on Monday at an Istanbul branch of Nusr Et, the international chain of restaurants owned by the Turkish chef Nusret Gokce, also known as “Salt Bae.”
Maduro was in Istanbul for a stop-off on his way from China, where he went to ask for more loans for his economically stricken country.
Recent polls of Venezuelans show that many struggle to afford food, and the country often sees mass protests because of the economic hardship. The government has advised Venezuelans to breed rabbits for food as a way to beat their hunger.
At one point in his meal, Maduro can be seen smoking a cigar and appearing to pose with Gokce as he was presented with a cigar and a T-shirt.
Reuters also quoted him telling fellow diners it was “a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”
Watch the videos here:
Mientras tanto el gobernante de Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, visita al reconocido chef, Salt Bae, en Turquía y disfruta de un delicioso manjar junto a la “primera combatiente” Cilia Flores. #DimeAlgo pic.twitter.com/tGieG9GV8J
— Yusnaby Pérez (@Yusnaby) September 17, 2018
Gokce found international fame and earned his nickname in early 2017 after a video of his cutting up steak and sprinkling salt over it went viral.
Meals at his chain restaurants have been panned as overly expensive. While the menu on Nusr Et’s website shows no prices, steaks in his New York restaurant run from $70 to $275, according to the New York Observer.
Gokce thanked Maduro for visiting the restaurant in at least two tweets on Monday, according to Bloomberg. Both of those tweets have since been deleted.
Maduro confirmed the visit in a state broadcast on Monday. He said, according to Reuters: “Nusret attended to us personally. We were chatting, having a good time with him … He loves Venezuela, he told me several times.”
Meanwhile, Venezuela suffers
Venezuela is mired in a profound economic crisis. The country is suffering from hyperinflation, powers cuts, and food shortages.
Venezuela could see inflation as high as 1 million percent this year, according to a July forecast from the International Monetary Fund, with locals needing stacks and stacks of cash just to buy basic food items.
A new study by the Venezuelan pollster Meganalisis found that 78.6% of the population found it difficult to feed themselves every day and that almost one in three Venezuelas could afford to eat only once a day.
Maduro also devalued the country’s currency, the bolivar, by 95% last month and pegged it to the petro, a state-backed cryptocurrency.
Several Venezuelan women said they turned to sex work in neighboring Colombia because the economic crisis had become so bad.
‘This weirdo Salt Bae’
Gokce received huge amounts of criticism for serving Maduro on Monday.
Yusnaby Pérez, a journalist in Venezuela, posted a video of Maduro’s meal with the caption “I wonder how every Venezuelan Chavista will feel tomorrow when they have to return to the daily titanic queue,” a reference to the huge lines where people in Venezuela regularly wait for food.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida joined in the condemnation.
“I don’t know who this weirdo #Saltbae is, but the guy he is so proud to host is not the President of #Venezuela.
“He is actually the overweight dictator of a nation where 30% of the people eat only once a day & infants are suffering from malnutrition.”
In another tweet he provided the phone number and address of Gokce’s Miami restaurant, encouraging constituents to protest.