As Venezuelans starve, President Nicolas Maduro feasts on steak at Salt Bae restaurant after China trip

Maduro is seen puffing on a cigar while he is served a steak by Nusret Gokce, a Turkish chef and worldwide restaurateur better known by his nickname Salt Bae

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 11:38am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 9:47pm

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro dined on expensive steak at a “Salt Bae” restaurant in Istanbul during a stop-off returning from a visit to China, drawing furore back home where millions struggle to get enough to eat and red meat is a rare luxury.

Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, who owns a chain of restaurants and is known as Salt Bae for his theatrical style of sprinkling salt on his steaks, posted videos and photos on his Twitter and Instagram feeds showing Maduro and his wife, Cilia, dining.

But Nusret, who has close to 16 million Instagram followers, later deleted them.

In one video, Maduro tells fellow diners: “This is a once in a lifetime moment,” as Gokce dramatically slices steak for them by their table while swaying his hips. In another video, Maduro smokes a cigar taken from a box with a plaque of his name.

Maduro confirmed the visit in a state broadcast later on Monday.

Venezuela’s political opposition jumped on the meal as evidence of Maduro’s disconnect from the country’s crisis, which has caused over 2 million people to emigrate to escape widespread shortages of food and medicine.

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Almost two-thirds of Venezuelans surveyed in a university study published in February said they had lost on average 11kg (24 pounds) in body weight last year. Eighty-seven per cent were assessed to live in poverty.

“While Venezuelans suffer and die of hunger, Nicolas Maduro and Cilia enjoy one of the priciest restaurants in the world, all with money stolen from the Venezuelan people,” tweeted opposition leader Julio Borges, the former head of Congress.

On social media, Venezuelans shared mocked-up images showing Gokce doing his trademark salt sprinkle pose above a skeletal child.

Maduro said he visited the restaurant for lunch during a two-hour stop in Istanbul.

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“Nusret attended to us personally. We were chatting, having a good time with him. … He loves Venezuela, he told me several times,” Maduro said.

Maduro had travelled to Beijing in hope of securing fresh funds for his cash-starved socialist government, though he returned only having signed several deals involving Venezuela’s energy sector.

Gokce went viral in 2017 after posting videos of himself salting meat with a cobra-like manoeuvre.

He has helped launch Nusr-Et restaurants, which charge several hundred dollars for some cuts of meat, in the Middle East, New York and Miami.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg