A pinch of salt was enough to make Nusret Gokce an international culinary legend. Also known as Salt Bae, the Turkish restaurant owner has become an internet phenomenon since he posted a video in January 2017 on his Instagram account.
With round glasses frames, the cook cut a large beef rib delicately and dramatically, before sprinkling it with salt with his fingertips, his arm in the shape of a cobra.
A 36-second video, 17 million views, a gesture that became iconic around the world and an unstoppable career for this 39-year-old Anatolian, from a family of five children and trained as an apprentice butcher after leaving school at the age of 12.
As the head of a chain of luxury restaurants called Nusr-Et, the entrepreneur has restaurants in Turkey, Greece, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
“Nothing is impossible,” he announced on his Instagram account, which has no less than 50.5 million followers. Indeed, nothing seems impossible to Nusret Gokce, who announced Tuesday, still on his favorite social media platform, that new restaurants will open in 12 international cities, including Paris, São Paulo, Ibiza, Tokyo, Milan and Tel Aviv.
This news confirms the rumor about talks between the chef and Tel Aviv businessman and president of Willi-Food, Zvi Williger, which Israeli media reported at the beginning of September.
This destination, regardless of how one thinks of the man, revives criticism among the defenders of the Palestinian cause. The meat magnate’s announcement that he will open his iconic restaurant in the second city of Israel is not to the taste of everyone.
Qatari Doha News quoted Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as saying, “The announced plan to open a branch of the Nusr-Et restaurant in the city of Tel Aviv under apartheid, and particularly under the current fascist and Islamophobic Israeli government, would considerably tarnish the reputation of the famous Turkish chef.”
Legend and controversy
However, despite a nearly decade-long rift between Ankara and Jerusalem, the two countries maintained economic relations and reestablished dialogue last summer. On Aug. 17, 2022, Turkey and Israel announced the total normalization of their relations through an agreement that included the return of the respective ambassadors and consuls. This rapprochement aimed among other things for Turkey to break its isolation through good neighborhood policy.
For the Turkish president, who presents himself as an unconditional defender of the Palestinian cause, it will not be easy to navigate this relationship, however, in the face of the new Israeli government, the most right wing in the country’s history.
After Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his return to power, he did not wait long to criticize the new coalition, considering the visit of Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in December as “provocative”.
But Nusret Gokce is not afraid of controversy. During the final game in the World Cup in Doha, Dec. 18, he crashed on the field and celebrated the victory with the Argentine players, kissing the trophy that can normally be touched only by the winners and tournament officials.
FIFA announced afterward that an investigation would be opened. It is uncertain if this will be enough to calm the ardor of the steak star. Last January, he received in his restaurant based in Dubai FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who shared on social networks his “unforgettable evening” in the company of a “legend.”
There is little doubt that Nusret Gokce knows how to surround himself. Son of a mine worker on the outskirts of Istanbul, the legend managed to convince a bank to lend him 2,500 Turkish Lira (almost $1,300 at the time) to set up a small establishment in Argentina.
Seven years later, he opened his first restaurant in Istanbul and raised no less than 4,500 Turkish lira ($2,200) on his first day.