Maduro Vows He'll Return to Salt Bae's Steakhouse After Backlash

(Bloomberg) -- A day after earning condemnation from critics at home and abroad for dining at a gourmet Turkish steakhouse, Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro vowed to return.

“Soon, soon, I’ll be back,” Maduro said during a press conference in Caracas Tuesday. “Thank you for the gifts you gave us.”

Among those gifts was a T-shirt that Maduro received from Nusret Gökçe -- the butcher and chef sensation also known as Salt Bae -- as he and his wife feasted on steak and cigars at a Nusr-Et restaurant in Istanbul. Nusret, who’s known for the flamboyant way he prepares and seasons steaks and charges up to $100 for a prime-rib dish, posted videos on Twitter and Instagram of him serving the couple during a stopover they made on their return from an official visit to China.

The video sparked immediate outrage back home, where millions of Venezuelans are skipping meals and losing weight as hyperinflation and an unprecedented economic collapse drive them deeper into poverty. Nusret, who has 16 million Instagram followers, took down the posts after thousands of people angrily replied that they showed how out of touch the socialist leader is with the situation on the ground in Venezuela.

The famous Venezuelan cartoon artist known as Edo captured the collective sentiment when he posted a drawing of Nusret sprinkling salt on the scraps of food Venezuelans had pulled out of a garbage bag.

Maduro seemed to recognize last night the extent of the outrage the videos had triggered when he arrived in Caracas. He immediately took over national TV and radio stations to talk about his trip to China, which has become Venezuela’s top international financier, and he sought to downplay the steak-dinner controversy by sliding in a brief mention of the meal. At his Tuesday press conference, he expounded further on the visit.

“I was invited to one of the best restaurants,” he said. “The chef of Nusr-Et received me. I didn’t know him. I appreciate the gifts he gave us. Venezuela has many friends. We embraced each other about seven times.”

Maduro, who was re-elected in May in a vote widely condemned as illegitimate by much of the international community, said he was also fond of a large, Sultan chair that he sat in when he toured a museum in Istanbul. “Sultan Maduro they called me,” he said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.