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Nusret Gökçe (Salt Bae) Is Famous, But for How Long?

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Linda explores food trends, celebrity chefs, and great places to eat.

Nusret Gökçe seasoning with style

Nusret Gökçe seasoning with style

"Once, restaurants were famous for their food and chefs were celebrities because they were good at cooking (and maybe good-looking). To restaurants, we went to be nourished and amazed by what came out of the kitchen and into our mouths."

— Joshua David Stein, GQ, January 24, 2018

Who Is Nusret Gökçe?

Nusret Gökçe, popularly known as Salt Bae, is a Turkish chef and restauranteur who rose to internet fame because of the way he prepares and seasons meat.

Nusret was born August 9, 1983, in Erzurum, Turkey. His father was a simple mineworker, and the Kurdish family of seven struggled financially. Nusret left school in the 6th grade and began working as an apprentice in a butcher shop. At the age of 13, he was working in Turkish steakhouses.

By the time he was 26, Nusret had acquired enough savings to fly to Buenos Aires (where meat is almost a religion). There he learned from some of the finest steakhouse chefs. He returned home one year later (2010) and opened his first restaurant, Nusr-Et, in the Etiler neighborhood of Istanbul with only eight tables and a staff of 10.

Nusret's Big Break

Ferit Şahenk is a Turkish businessman, the CEO of Doğuş Group, and reportedly is one of the richest men in Turkey. One day he entered Nusr-Et and was so impressed that he invested in the man with the magic sprinkling of salt. His financial backing allowed Nusret to expand from eight tables to an empire of 13 restaurants around the globe and more than 600 employees.

But, that's just the beginning.

With a Grain of Salt

On January 7, 2017, Nusret posted “Ottoman Steak,” a 36-second video, on Instagram. I hope he had carefully considered his presence and attire on that day because this is now his trademark, the “signature look.” His black hair was slicked back, he wore John Lennon dark glasses and a tight-fitting white t-shirt. Wielding a formidable knife, he skillfully sliced a massive steak into thin slices. The final step was a baptism of salt flakes, deftly sprinkled from his fingertips, cascading in a shower down his forearm to the steaming platter below.

Within 48 hours the video had been viewed 2.4 million times. As of this writing, it's been viewed over 16 million times (and counting) and Nusret has more than 20 million Instagram followers.

The $130 Nusr-Et Ottoman steak

The $130 Nusr-Et Ottoman steak

What to Expect at a Nusr-Et Restaurant

  • Food critics have said that a Nusr-Et Restaurant is more like a theme park than a dining experience. Images of Salt Bae are displayed everywhere.
  • He works in all of his restaurants; I don't know if there is a planned rotation or if his appearance in this or that part of the globe is random and spontaneous.
  • If you happen to be dining at the place he graces with his presence, you can expect a dramatic pose (for photos) with the chef. I don't know if this happens at each table, or only those that happen to order one of the more pricey meat creations.
  • The menu is limited and meat-centric. Vegetarians and vegans are well-advised to demur if invited to dine at Nusr-et.
  • Prices are insanely expensive.
  • Don't ask for tap water—it is not available—one must pay for bottled water (sparkling or "still").
  • A simple glass of Sprite is $10.
  • Vegetable side dishes (mashed potatoes, spinach, or corn) are $19 for a small serving for one.
  • The lowest-priced entrée is the $30 cheeseburger (more on that in a moment).
nusret-gke-the-salt-bae-is-famous-but-for-how-long
Nusr-Et Burger

Nusr-Et Burger

That Nusr-Et Cheeseburger

I chose to feature the Nusr-Et cheeseburger because it is one of the few items on his menu that you might be able to recreate at home. This is not meant as a reflection on your cooking skills, but merely as an acknowledgment of the types and sizes of meats you might have at your disposal.

As one might expect, Salt Bae's cheeseburger is not your standard beef and cheese hot sandwich. Here's a rough approximation of how to build one on your backyard grill.

Yield: 1 burger

Ingredients

  • 1 sesame seed burger bun
  • Boosted-up ketchup (a mixture of 2 tablespoons ketchup, 1 teaspoon minced dill pickle, 1 teaspoon mayonnaise)
  • Ground beef (25/75 or 30/70 is best)
  • 2 American cheese slices (yes, ordinary Velveeta cheese)
  • Burger sauce (see explanation below)
  • Thinly sliced white onion

Instructions

  1. Place the buns on the grill, cut side down for just a few seconds to toast them.
  2. Stir together the ingredients for the “boosted up” ketchup sauce.
  3. Grill two smash-burger patties to perfection (still pink in the center).
  4. After flipping, cover both with cheese slices.
  5. Once the cheese has begun to melt stack the patties one atop the other.
  6. Smear burger sauce on the bottom bun (in the UK burger sauce is a jarred condiment—a combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, and yellow mustard).
  7. Next comes the very thinly sliced onions.
  8. Top with the two smash burger/cheese patties.
  9. Spread the boosted-up ketchup on the cut side of the top bun and place that bun on top of the burger patty.
  10. Slice the burger in half and grill for a few moments, cut sides on the grill, to caramelize the edges.

See the video below for an in-depth explanation.

By the way, this burger, coated with 24-carat gold, was first introduced at Nusr-Et Restaurant in Dubai. The glitzy version costs $100, but in Dubai, price is no object.

What Do the Critics Say?

Does a higher price equate to a higher level of excellence? Here is a sampling of what food critics (people who actually expect superior quality) have to say about the food at Nusr-Et Restaurants:

  • "Salt Bae Burger is an insult to our city. Don't eat here, not even as a goof." Scott Lynch, Gothamist.com, 3 March 2020.
  • "Salt Bae is as swift with a knife as villainous 'Turk' Solozzo in The Godfather. But his tableside, butcher’s blade attack on a $130, “mustard-marinated Ottoman steak” failed to sufficiently tenderize the shoe-leather-tough bone-in ribeye, which, for extra fun, was loaded with gruesome globs of fat." Steve Cuozzo, NY Post.
  • You want to hate the place, to dismiss it. There are better, less expensive, steaks just a few blocks away, dry-aged, and funkier than what you’ll find at Nusr-et. Yet, when Salt Bae shows up to slice and season our steak, it’s embarrassingly thrilling, like watching your favorite cheesy movie. Kate Krader, Bloomberg food editor.
  • "Given the stiff competition, I am not convinced there’s room in this segment long-term once the hype has died down, for what is essentially a casual steakhouse. And for that instead of a high 4 out of 5 knives, I am dishing out a 3.5 FooDiva knife rating." Anna Napolitano (The FooDiva), Toronto, Canada.
  • "The whole chain is built on the premise that there is a guy who does a thing, and you can Instagram a picture of the guy doing the thing. The thing is putting salt on food in a flamboyant manner. The guy is Nusret Gökçe, nicknamed Salt Bae, a Turkish chef and butcher who became a meme for his salting technique and has been cashing in ever since. With 18 locations and only one guy, there is at best a 5.6% chance you will see the guy do the thing. If I sound annoyed, then I’m getting my point across." Brian Reinhart, Dallas Observer.

The Final Word

And this from Joshua David Stein of GQ:

"As Salt Bae knows, we aren’t there for the meat. All flesh become worms, but celebrity live longer, and a geotag forever. We approach this glistering Midtown temple of meat in the hope that some of Gökçe’s immortality might land on us, or at least our Instagram accounts. Drunk on overpriced cocktails and overpriced dreams, we wait for our names to be called. But promises of immortality are like $130 steaks. They must be taken with a grain of salt."

Sources

© 2021 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 06, 2021:

Manatita, I'll give him an A for marketing (and probably for having a huge ego). You'll not find me there. Even if I could afford the cost, massive hunks of beef are not my thing (and shouldn't be in anyone's diet). Thanks for your kind words.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 06, 2021:

Rozlin, until 2 weeks ago I had not heard of him either. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 06, 2021:

Well, Flourish, what can I say? It's a free market. One can choose to eat there or not. You won't find me there.

manatita44 from london on July 06, 2021:

Reads like the guy knows how to market more than anything else. Good luck to him. He bilocates! That's how he gets around so many restaurants. Chuckle. Lovely article and great story as usual. Not for me though. Cheers.

Rozlin from UAE on July 06, 2021:

I never heard about salt bae. I learnt a lot about him from your hub. This is a well researched and well written hub, Linda. Thanks for sharing. Stay safe and healthy always.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 06, 2021:

I had not heard of him but shame on him for trying to fleece people like this. No salted meat is worth those prices. Jeepers.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 05, 2021:

EK, I had not heard of him either; I researched and wrote this at the request of a fellow Hubber. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this.

EK Jadoon from Abbottabad Pakistan on July 05, 2021:

I always learn something new through your articles. The restaurant Nusr-Et seems to be very expensive. 10 dollors for a sprite—it's too much. I have never heard about SaltBai before. Thanks for sharing with us.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 05, 2021:

Mary, you've got it. I think if you want to be famous you have to post a video on Instagram. I'll let you go first.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 05, 2021:

Bill, if not for Misbah, I would not have known of him either. I wrote this at her request. She's happy, so I'm happy.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on July 05, 2021:

I hadn't heard of him until now. Seriously 30 bucks for a burger with Velveeta? Even if I won the lottery, I wouldn't go in there. It is one thing paying well for good food and the experience but another for leaving feeling I'd been conned.

It sounds like social media hype.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 05, 2021:

.How famous can he be? I've never heard of him or his restaurants. We don't know much about famous here in the Northeast neighborhood of Olympia. :) Heck, I'm probably more famous than this guy here in the "Hood." lol Having some fun with you. It was an interesting read, as always. Happy 5th of July to you, my friend. Be well!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 05, 2021:

John, I know you're a good cook and I'll bet you can throw down a steak on the grill with the best of them. Now, all you need to do is work on your salting technique.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 05, 2021:

Kalpana, yes, that cheeseburger does look yummy, but I'm not paying $30 for one (I'm pretty sure the fries are extra). I agree with you that at many expensive restaurants you are paying for the name, not necessarily the quality of the food. Yes, it's good, but is it THAT good? Thanks for commenting.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 05, 2021:

I am glad that we "met" here Misbah. There are many wonderful souls here.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 05, 2021:

I'm with you Pamela. I wonder if there is any medicinal value to gold leaf {{wink, wink}. I'm just kidding. Don't look that up.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 05, 2021:

Rosina, I'm not sure how this will eventually turn out. I guess as long as there are people willing to pay the outrageous prices (and there are many who simply seem to have more money than common sense), his empire will continue.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on July 05, 2021:

This was very interesting, Linda. So how you throw the salt on the food can make you famous haha. I love steak but I am not paying those prices for anything in the hope Salt Bae may turn up at the restaurant I'm eating at. Thank you for sharing though.

Kalpana Iyer from India on July 05, 2021:

Linda*.. Oops :) Sorry for the typo.

Kalpana Iyer from India on July 05, 2021:

Well written, Lindia. Salt Bae is famous for the entertainment value. I am not surprised the food is getting mixed reviews (cheesburger looks great though). Honestly, I feel a lot of expensive restraurants are overrated. Some of the best food I've had are from affordable places. It's the brand name mostly that drives the price up, and very rarely the food quality.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on July 05, 2021:

Aww. Thank you so much, Linda, my dear friend. You are really very Kind. Your efforts are much appreciated. Thank you so much for writing this for me; you have truly honored me. Your warm prayers helped me greatly in my recovery. Much Gratitude!

I consider myself very lucky to have you as a friend. You have a heart of gold. Love you so much. Hugs!!

Sending Blessings and Love

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 05, 2021:

This is another very interesting article, Linda. I will say I am not paying $30 for a cheeseburger no matter who cooks it.

I watched the video, and he is rather dramatic looking with his sun glasses and sharp knife. I think you covered this topic very well and while I hav heard of that steak, most of this article was new information for me.

Thanks for another interesting food article. Your articles are always interesting. Have a good week.

Rosina S Khan on July 04, 2021:

It was interesting to know about Nusret and his growing network of steak restaurants all around the world. There seem to be critics who are not very happy with the way he manages his restaurants, or doubt how long his fame will last. I think he has come a long way and if he can attract customers plentifully with his reputation, he should be well and good.

Thank you, Linda, for this stunning contribution.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 04, 2021:

Misbah, without your comment I would never have heard of Nusret. I enjoyed doing the research and writing this for you my dear friend. I hope others will enjoy it too.

My love to you and prayers for your continued healing.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on July 04, 2021:

Very well-researched and fascinating. Linda, Thank you for taking the time to create this beautiful hub. Superb, very great. I've learned a lot more about Salt bae from your article... Hats off!

Blessings and Love

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