In the weird world of Internet stardom, a Turkish chef known for his distinctive method of salting his steaks briefly became a ridiculous meme. His name is Salt Bae, or, as GQ put it, “America’s newest celebrity chef.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) apparently never saw the meme and is not one of Salt Bae’s 15.7 million followers on Instagram, where the chef posts photos of himself hanging out with the likes of Sean “Diddy” Combs, Drake and DJ Khaled.
But when it came to Salt Bae — real name Nusret Gokce — serving steak to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at one of his restaurants, the time had come for Rubio to call out the chef.
On Monday, Rubio denounced Salt Bae for serving the Venezuelan president at his restaurant, Nusr-Et, in Istanbul.
“I don’t know who this weirdo #Saltbae is, but the guy he is so proud to host is not the President of #Venezuela,” Rubio wrote on Twitter. A few minutes later, he posted another tweet that included the address and phone number of Gokce’s restaurant in Miami, “in case anyone wanted to call.”
Rubio has been a vocal critic of Maduro, and earlier this year called out Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) for meeting with the socialist leader. In February, Rubio suggested that the Venezuelan military should remove Maduro from power.
The Florida senator was responding to a video that appeared on Gokce’s Twitter and Instagram account on Monday, but was deleted shortly after Rubio drew attention to it. According to the Miami Herald, which downloaded a copy before it disappeared, the video shows Gokce preparing slabs of meat for Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, and “sprinkling it with the flourish that earned him tacit Internet fame.” Maduro smoked a cigar. Later, Gokce gave Maduro a Salt Bae T-shirt.
After the video was posted, numerous commenters criticized Maduro for eating at an expensive steakhouse, as Venezuela’s economy is on the verge of collapse and many in the country are unable to eat. In Venezuela, a McDonald’s Big Mac costs $3.60, which is equivalent to a fifth of the monthly minimum wage, The Washington Post reported last week. According to the Herald, a single steak at Nusr-Et Steakhouse, Gokce’s Miami restaurant, costs $275. Photos on TripAdvisor suggest that the Istanbul location is somewhat cheaper.
Even Miami Mayor Francis Suarez joined in critiquing Maduro. Writing in Spanish, he called it “disgusting” to see Maduro eating while many in Venezuela starve.
After sharing the Miami restaurant’s phone number on Twitter, Rubio received more than 1,000 replies, many of them criticizing him for singling out a private business.
“You are using the platform you have earned as a public trust to incite harassment of a constituent who, it appears, isn’t breaking the law, but has views you don’t like,” said one response. “This is a shocking betrayal of your responsibility — downright Trumpian.”
Some suggested that Rubio had violated Twitter’s terms of service, which prohibit users from posting other people’s phone numbers on the site. However, Twitter expressly states that this applies to “non-public, personal phone numbers,” a category which does not include a restaurant’s publicly listed phone number.
Earlier this month, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted out the New York Times’s phone number after the paper published an anonymous op-ed from a senior administration official who criticized the president. The paper was subsequently flooded with calls, many of them supportive.
Six hours after Rubio’s tweet, the steakhouse’s voice mail was, somewhat remarkably, not full. And Salt Bae, who was previously criticized in December 2017 for posing with a cigar next to a photo of Fidel Castro, had not responded.
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