What are the chances of a butcher making a video of himself carving a piece of steak generating so much interest that it would go viral on Instagram with 10 million views? This is the incredible achievement by Nusret Gokce, a flamboyant Turkish butcher and restaurant entrepreneur with a flair for theatrics and a chain of establishments called the Nusr-Et Steakhouse. The 2017 video called “Ottoman Steak” shows him cutting up a large steak in an exaggerated style and then sprinkling it with salt, dropping it from his fingers down onto his forearm then onto the meat. Yes, sounds a bit weird but this original video made him an instant celebrity and gave him a new nick name, “Salt Bae” which translates to Salt Baby. Watch it for yourself on YouTube at :
His very smart midtown New York restaurant is a grand mix of high end beef, outrageous prices and boundless use of celebrity. When I visited for lunch recently, the owner was not in-house and there were no celebrities in sight so the circus acts were on hold. That allowed me to have a good chat to the chefs and the waiters who were happy to tell the story. Does anyone actually order and eat the $1,000 (AUD$1,470) steak? Yes, but the event is usually associated with celebrities or hopefuls having a photo opportunity in this very famous place with the obscene 24 carat gold leaf coated Golden Tomahawk or if they are on a budget, the gold coated striploin, much cheaper at only $590 (AUD$868).
The beef is mostly US wagyu and Angus sourced exclusively from Snake River Farms (near Boise, Idaho) except for a small amount of Australian wagyu. The chefs told me that the Aussie beef was included to help keep the price down. I think he actually meant, keep the margins up. All the beef is dry aged with a long wall of refrigerated cabinets a feature of the restaurant decor which also provide some entertainment by showing off the name tags on the reserved cuts of beef. See photos below with names on the reserved items including Bruce Willis, C. Ronaldo, Diego Maradona and some other notables that I had to google. If you look up the Salt Bae web site you will see a large number of photos of the owner with A list celebrities, politicians and even royalty so these reserved cuts may well be a real piece of free advertising as well as a bit of fun. All the meat on the menu is displayed in butcher shop style cabinets with the chefs happy to describe the details of every option.
Fortunately for me there is a $30 burger on the menu which seemed like an absolute bargain after reading the rest of the offering. It was pretty good too with the chefs explaining that the patty was made with wagyu brisket.
While I don’t feel the need to go back for a second visit, the owner deserves full marks for his entrepreneurial flair, promoting beef as an elite product worthy of his exceptionally high prices, keenly sought after by celebrities and royalty alike . And I don’t doubt for a moment that the steaks eat well too. The practice of using celebrities to market products from watches to cosmetics is well established but Gokce gives this format in a new twist with a combination of magnificent beef and flamboyant presentation which can’t help but have a strong positive collateral effect on main stream beef demand through his massive social media following. Well done Salt Bae.
After opening his first restaurant in Turkey in 2010, Nusret Gokce has expanded his Nusr-Et steakhouse chain to include Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Qatar, Turkey (4), Saudi Arabia, Greece, Miami and New York.