Salt Bae chef in hot water after serving Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro

President shown eating expensive meal amid food shortages at home

By Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor, Saira Anwer - Reporter

MIAMI - Turkish restaurateur Nusret Gokce -- better known as Salt Bae -- has come under fire on social media after a video showed him serving Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his wife, Cilia, an expensive cut of meat during a dinner in Istanbul.

Venezuela's economy has been in free fall in recent years with many people living in poverty and suffering from malnutrition.

Images and videos of Gokce sprinkling salt on his dishes became a viral sensation last year, making him an international celebrity. He owns several high-end Nusr-Et Steakhouse restaurants, including one in Miami's Brickell neighborhood.

Gokce posted the video of Maduro on his Twitter and Instagram accounts on Monday.

"I don't know who this weirdo Saltbae is, but the guy he is so proud to host is not the president of Venezuela," Sen. Marco Rubio said on Twitter. "He is actually the overweight dictator of a nation where 30 percent of the people eat only once a day and infants are suffering from malnutrition."

People on Instagram and Twitter posted the video alongside images of Venezuelans searching for food. Another image showed Gokce sprinkling salt on a skeletal child.

Rubio also tweeted the address of Gokce's Miami restaurant and along with the phone number, urging people to call.

"Nusret attended to us personally. We were chatting, having a good time with him. ... He loves Venezuela, he told me several times," Maduro said in a state television broadcast, according to Reuters.

Miami's mayor also weighed in on the video.

"It is disgusting to see the dictator Nicolas Maduro eating in this video while in Venezuela people are dying of hunger and tens of thousands cross the borders looking for a refuge and something to eat," Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said on Twitter.

The video is particularly disturbing to residents of Doral, which has one of the largest Venezuelan populations in the U.S.

"I was a little bit mad because, you know, I’m from Venezuela, even though I've been living here for 18 years," resident Andres Mendez told Local 10 News.

Mendez said he thinks the chef did not anticipate the online backlash in South Florida.

"Very strong comments," Mendez said.

Charles Del Campo echoed Mendez's sentiment.

"It's a complete insult to our community over here," Del Campo said.

A protest is scheduled for Wednesday outside Gokce's Miami restaurant. 

Copyright 2018 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.