Turkish chef Salt Bae at centre of FIFA probe after World Cup pitch intrusion
Celebrity chef and social media meme Nusret Gokce – better known as "Salt Bae" – has turned his singular way of seasoning a steak into global fame and huge wealth.
The 39-year-old Turkish fitness fanatic first gained renown a decade ago with YouTube videos showing him pouring salt on a cut of meat, down his bare arm, with an overtly sensual pout.
His 50 million Instagram followers can now see him posing in his trademark dark glasses and slicked-back hair with the FIFA World Cup and some Argentinian football stars.
How Salt Bae actually got to touch the golden trophy after Argentina's win over France is the focus of a formal FIFA probe.
A collection of Salt Bae trying for clout with these players. So painful to watch. Like forcing himself between 2 players and trying to take the trophy away while players try to maintain professionalism, but their faces can be clearly read they are annoyed pic.twitter.com/BbChdBEK3M— Kevin Huyghe (@JCUStreaks10) December 19, 2022
Viral images show the diminutive chef tussling through a swarm of security personnel toward Argentina's captain Lionel Messi on the pitch after the match.
One clip shows Messi seemingly brushing off Salt Bae and attempting to walk away.
FIFA is now launching a probe into how the celebrity chef ended up on the pitch.
"Following a review, FIFA has been establishing how individuals gained undue access to the pitch after the closing ceremony at Lusail stadium on December 18," a spokesman told the BBC.
"The appropriate internal action will be taken."
Messi ignoring Salt Bae is golden 🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/SfCiz1wzXA— Omar Al Raisi (@Dantani) December 19, 2022
But a picture subsequently posted on Salt Bae's Instagram account shows him clasping Messi's hand and gesturing triumphantly toward the camera.
"You're the man, Messi," Salt Bae wrote next to the photograph in Turkish.
The picture included the hashtag #saltlife.
That life is being chronicled by smartly-dressed social media assistants that Salt Bae hires to record his movements.
Another video shared from 2018 shows Messi and Salt Bae warmly embracing.
Salt Bae's carefully crafted persona revolves around machismo and phenomenal endurance and skill.
The chef generally does not speak.
He occasionally growls a satisfied but barely distinguishable word following a long night that he crowns with a cigar puffed after performing a few acrobatic tricks with a golden lighter.
His juggling acts with a razor-sharp knife and huge slabs of very expensive meat made his career - launched in a lowly butcher shop on the Asian side of Istanbul.
Salt Bae told AFP in 2020 that he still views the Turkish megalopolis as the "capital of the world".
But he now heads a global chain stretching from Las Vegas to London that dishes up $1,000 gold leaf steaks to a clientele made up of fellow trendsetters and celebrities.
Salt Bae can still occasionally be seen jogging around Istanbul's more upscale neighbourhoods with impressive weights strapped around his bulging calves and arms.
Salt Bae is now banned from attending U.S. Open Cup after his embarrassing behavior at World Cup. pic.twitter.com/poci3vKMej— Daily Loud (@DailyLoud) December 22, 2022
His attention to his own physique is part of the chef's peculiar charm.
His early morning workouts are chronicled in great detail and include endless flexes of his biceps for the camera.
But this self-aggrandisement is laced with boundless irony that shines through when he happily posts some of the most scathing reviews of his food and general behaviour.
Many food critics have panned his London Nusr-Et outpost - one of 22 he now has around the world.
The Guardian's food critic called it "a ludicrous restaurant". GQ magazine agreed that the steak Salt Bae serves in New York is "mundane, somewhat tough and rather bland".
"It does not matter," GQ added. "One does not visit Salt Bae for steak alone any more than one goes to Mass for the wafers."
Salt Bae happily gloats at all the attention while accumulating a fortune that various media reports estimate at up to $70 million.
"All publicity is good publicity," he wrote on Instagram over a picture of one of the more painful London reviews.