If you show up at one of viral Internet sensation Salt Bae’s restaurants, don’t bother asking for your meat to be cooked a specific way.
Forget about medium, rare, or Cajun-spiced. Ask him to make it the only way he knows how: Sexy.
Nusret Gokce, a.k.a. Salt Bae, shot to viral fame with Instagram videos of his super-sultry salting technique.
His trademark move, bending his elbow and sprinkling salt off his chiseled forearm, has led to thousands of memes.
Singer Bruno Mars even tweeted out a still frame of Salt Bae being sensually salty, adding the words “Annndddd I’m out.”
Behind the glitzy technique lies an incredible success story, of a young boy born into a working-class family who dreamed of becoming a chef.
Employees at his newest restaurant, Nusr-et Steakhouse in Abu Dhabi’s glamorous Galleria Mall, home to high-end clothiers like Boss and Ermenegildo Zegna, declined to speak on the record.
It wasn’t because they weren’t allowed, but because the steady stream of customers, including Emirati royalty, kept staff constantly attending to tables.
Dishwasher to demigod
Gokce was reputedly born into a mining family in a rural area of Turkey. One friend says that Gokce got a job as a dishwasher when he was younger, working long hours but never giving up on his dream of running his own restaurant.
He began making friends with local customers and experimenting with his own dishes. When folks kept coming back for more, the story goes, they’d specifically ask for Gokce’s specials.
Word began to spread, and slowly, the legend was born.
Gokce now owns six restaurants in Turkey and the UAE, where ordinary diners rub shoulders with celebrities and Emirati royalty.
There are plans to expand into major European capitals and word is he’s already scouting locations in London.
Spend a typical evening at his newest restaurant and you’ll see Gokce is even more passionate about meat in person than he is in his videos.
With his signature tight black and white T-shirts – and, arguably, even tighter pants – he greets patrons personally, often serving and carving their dishes table-side.
Many of those videos are shot on smartphones by the patrons themselves and later uploaded on social media.
When he’s not working the floor, Gokce is constantly engaging with his fan base on social media. His phone is constantly in his hands, and his Instagram account alone has 2.4 million followers.
He’s known to work 18-hour days, personally inspecting and carving each piece of beef that’s flown in from slaughterhouses he regularly visits himself.
Even the sweet baklava, plated up with more knife-wielding dexterity, is flown in daily from Turkey.
As his small army of waiters, many sporting traditional Turkish mustaches reminiscent of Turkey’s early 20th-century Ataturk era, scurry about, the restaurant is alive with the bold, meat-tinged aromas emanating from the open kitchen.
One of his signature dishes, a beef “sushi,” is cooked table-side using a blowtorch, the flames bouncing off wooden carving boards and shooting up several feet high.
The end result is a signature dish that tastes unlike anything else.
Warm, almost gooey meat, is complemented perfectly by crispy tufts of fried shavings and subtle hints of traditional Japanese sushi fillings.
Designed to be eaten by hand, it’s soft, moist, warm, and will leave hands and lips wet. All part of the experience.
It’s a passionate mouthful – unraveling to reveal layers of deeper textures and explosive hidden flavors.
There’s also “steak spaghetti,” made by flash-grilling incredibly long and thin cuts of steak, presented table-side, each individually wrapped around a fork by a waiter.
The meat is juicy, fresh, perfectly spiced and come as close to melting in the mouth as a steak can.
Gokce’s passion and obsession with detail shines through in nearly every dish, with each subsequent course surpassing the previous.
Portions are enough to savor the flavors without leaving guests overpowered by meat.
With mains ranging from $60 to $200, it’s not cheap, but not excessive by UAE standards.
The real menu highlight remains Gokce.
And yes, according to at least one longtime employee, he’s married. But not how you may think.
“He’s married to his job,” one employee explains. “He doesn’t even travel unless it’s to scout for new locations.”