Venezuela’s president feasted on expensive steak at celebrity chef Salt Bae’s restaurant while millions of people back home are starving.
Nícolas Maduro was seen dining with his wife on Monday at an Istanbul branch of Nusr Et, the international chain of restaurants by to Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe, also known as “Salt Bae.”
Maduro was in Istanbul for a stop-off on his way from China, where he went to ask for more loans for his economically-stricken country.
Recent polls of Venezuelans show that many struggle to afford food, and the country often sees mass protests because of their economic hardship. The government has advised Venezuelans to breed and kill rabbits as a way to beat their hunger.
At one point in his meal, Maduro can be seen smoking a cigar and appearing to pose with Gökçe as he was presented with a cigar and a T-shirt.
Reuters also cited him telling fellow diners: “This is a once in a lifetime moment.”
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Gökçe found international fame and earned his nickname in early 2017 after a video of him cutting up steak and sprinkling salt over it went viral.
Meals at his chain restaurants have been panned as overly expensive. While the menu on Nusr Et’s website shows no prices, steaks in his New York restaurant run from $70 to $275, according to the New York Observer.
Gökçe thanked Maduro for visiting the restaurant in at least two tweets on Monday, according to Bloomberg. Both of those tweets have since been deleted.
Maduro, however, confirmed the visit in a state broadcast on Monday. He said, according to Reuters: “Nusret attended to us personally. We were chatting, having a good time with him … He loves Venezuela, he told me several times.”
Meanwhile, Venezuela suffers
Maduro feasted on steak as the rest of his country struggles through a profound economic crisis. Venezuela is suffering from hyperinflation, powers cuts, and food shortages.
Venezuela could see inflation as high as 1,000,000% this year, according to a July forecast from the IMF, with locals needing stacks and stacks of cash just to buy basic food items.
A new study by Venezuelan pollster Meganalisis found that 78.6% of the population found it difficult to feed themselves every day, and almost one in three Venezuelas could only afford to eat once a day.
Maduro also devalued the country’s currency, the bolivar, by 95% last month and pegged it to the state-backed cryptocurrency, the petro.
Several Venezuelan women said they turned to sex work in neighboring Colombia because the economic crisis had become so bad.
“This weirdo Salt Bae”
Gökçe received huge amounts of criticism for serving Maduro on Monday.
Yusnaby Pérez, a journalist in Venezuela, posted a video of Maduro’s meal with the caption: “I wonder how every Venezuelan Chavista will feel tomorrow when they have to return to the daily titanic queue,” referring to the huge lines where citizens wait for food every day.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also joined in the condemnation.
He tweeted on Monday night:
“I don’t know who this weirdo #Saltbae is, but the guy he is so proud to host is not the President of #Venezuela.
“He is actually the overweight dictator of a nation where 30% of the people eat only once a day & infants are suffering from malnutrition.”
In another tweet, he also provided the number and address of Gökçe’s Miami restaurant, and encouraged constituents to visit or call it in protest.