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Celebrity chef Salt Bae draws flak for serving lavish meal to Venezuela's Maduro

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Video footage released on Monday showed a performance like the one that launched Nusret Gokce to stardom. But within a matter of hours, chef Gokce, a celebrity chef better known as Salt Bae, had deleted the footage after Senator Marco Rubio denounced him on Twitter.

[NEW YORK] Video footage released on Monday showed a performance like the one that launched Nusret Gokce to stardom. But within a matter of hours, chef Gokce, a celebrity chef better known as Salt Bae, had deleted the footage after Senator Marco Rubio denounced him on Twitter.

The three Instagram videos, preserved by The Miami Herald, show chef Gokce with his hair slicked back, a pair of dark aviators over his eyes and a tight V-neck shirt plunging below his sculpted chest, as he flicks his knife through medium-rare lamb chops at his Istanbul steakhouse.

The theatrical execution of cutting meat and showering it with speckles of salt have made chef Gokce an international celebrity chef, who now runs steakhouses in the United States.

But what angered Mr Rubio and others was the identity of the dinner guest being served luxurious cuts of meat: President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, the authoritarian whose country's economy and food supply have crumbled under his rule.

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His videos, shared with millions of followers, quickly attracted criticism directed at Mr Maduro, for dining on an extravagant meal while Venezuelans starve, and the chef, for entertaining such a person.

"I don't know who this weirdo #Saltbae is," Mr Rubio wrote, "but the guy he is so proud to host is not the president of #Venezuela".

Mr Rubio, a fierce critic of Mr Maduro, has tried to guide the Trump administration's approach towards Latin America. "He is actually the overweight dictator of a nation where 30 per cent of the people eat only once a day," the senator tweeted, and "infants are suffering from malnutrition".

Not satisfied with just one tweet, Mr Rubio followed up with four more on the topic on Monday and two more on Tuesday. In one of the tweets on Monday, he shared the phone number for the chef's steakhouse in Miami, one of two locations in the US, "in case anyone wanted to call", said Mr Rubio, whose state has the largest Venezuelan-American population in the country.

Before long, the videos had been deleted. In the clips preserved by The Herald, chef Gokce grips the meat and the knife while wearing black disposable gloves. Mr Maduro, puffing on a cigar, smiles and laughs. Later, the president admires a shirt the chef presents him. And before Mr Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, leave the restaurant, the chef and the president embrace in a hug.

NYTIMES