Prominent Venezuelans in Miami, many of them in the culinary community, are up in arms after restaurant owner and Instagram star Nusret Gökçe, better known as Salt Bae, served Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and First Lady Cilia Flores at his Istanbul eatery.
The chef posted a video of him dissecting and serving a giant hunk of meat to Maduro — at a time when millions are going hungry in his country.
An immediate backlash followed in Miami, a city populated by many Venezuelans who have family suffering back home. Gökçe owns and operates an outpost of his steakhouse, Nusr-Et, in Brickell.
In a tweet, Sen. Marco Rubio reminded his followers that Gökçe owned a restaurant in Miami — in case they wanted to call to voice their feelings on the matter. Miami chefs, many of them with Venezuelan roots, have condemned the flamboyant Salt Bae for so gleefully serving a dictator.
Celebrity chef Lorena Garcia was appalled when she saw the video. "In Venezuela, people are starving. There are no medicines, no necessities that people need. To see the irony of this man eating in one of the most expensive restaurants is unacceptable."
Garcia, who owns Chica at the Venetian Las Vegas' Miami strip of restaurants, vows to never eat at Nusr-Et in Brickell. "I could never support a restaurant that served a dictator. When you align yourself with someone who does so much harm, it's terrible."
Garcia says the issue is very close to her heart. "I have an aunt in Venezuela that I have to send medicine to so she can stay alive. When I have to do that and I turn around and see the president of Venezuela showcase opulence and money, it's difficult."
Arson chef/co-owner Deme Lomas posted a photo of Maduro on Instagram along with the caption "Don't like talking about politics on social media, but today was too much. I don't blame the chef, but eating an $$$ menu while your population suffers poverty and hunger is disgusting." Lomas tell New Times he would have refused to serve Maduro. "In my case, we have a lot of Venezuelans on our team, and me and my partners think it would be disrespectful to them to allow such a person to enter."
Sugar Yummy Mama's Giselle Pinto was disgusted by the fact that "people are literally dying" in her homeland while their leader enjoys a hearty meal. She also points out that Maduro seemed to be wearing a Patek Philippe watch, valued at over $100,000. "I am so angry," she noted.
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A protest is being planned at noon today outside Nusr-Et Miami by VEPPEX (Venezolanos Perseguidos Politicos en el Exilio). VEPPEX President Jose Colina says he expects at least 100 people to show up, but the number might be greater. "A lot of people called me already about the protest."
Colina, who says the organization has about 200 members in Miami and close to 18,000 worldwide, is planning the protest to show Salt Bae and his partners that Miamians do not agree with people who entertain dictators. "We are very upset that Maduro went to the restaurant. He's eating a lot of food while the Venezuelan community is collapsing and people are dying."
Colina says Salt Bae seems to "like bad people like Maduro and Castro. For that reason, we are going to protest. Venezuelans and Cubans make up the heart of Miami, and we are going to show everyone that he should close his restaurant here. It's not good for the community that we have people who support terrorists like Maduro. "