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TO diners at his restaurants, Nusret Gokce cuts a charismatic figure – hanging out with celebs and tossing seasoning over £700 steaks with his signature flourish.
But the flamboyant Turkish chef – known to his millions of followers as Salt Bae – had a humble upbringing with a family so poor he had to drop out of school when he was 10.
This week, the 38-year-old’s Nusr-et chain opened his first UK restaurant in London’s Knightsbridge, bringing his total number of venues to 15.
Wealthy diners flocked to try his famed tomahawk steak, covered in 24-carat-gold – despite it’s eye-watering price – so they could watch him drizzle salt down his forearm in his trademark move, although many balked at the cost of a Coke (£9) and £100 burger.
The triumphant opening is the latest chapter of a rags to riches story that saw him go from a butcher’s apprentice to a £38million fortune, a palace in his native Istanbul and a private jet to ferry him between his restaurants in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and across the US.
His videos – showcasing his skill with a butcher’s knife and topless workouts – have earned him 11 million followers and he claims he is stopped by 1,000 adoring fans a day.
With his dark suits, trademark sunglasses and ever-present cigar, the swaggering chef has also dubbed himself The Saltfather, posting numerous parodies of the classic mafia movie The Godfather.
Here we look into the lavish life of the dad-of-nine whose fans include David Beckham, Christiano Ronaldo and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Butcher's apprentice at 13
The son of a miner, Nusret was one of five children born and raised in a small poverty-stricken suburb just east of Istanbul.
His family took him out of school after primary, due to financial pressures, and he was forced to work from a young age.
At 13 he was taken on as a butcher’s apprentice, working long hours in the Turkish steakhouses for the next decade before moving to Buenos Aires on a mission to learn more about meat.
He worked for nothing in the restaurants, dreaming of eventually making it as a chef in the US.
“I was always wishing and wishing to open up a restaurant,” Gokce told NBC News.
In 2010, at the age of 27, he got his wish, opening the his first Nusr-Et steakhouse in the Etiler neighborhood of Istanbul with just eight tables and 10 employees.
After meeting Turkish businessman Ferit Sahenk, who was so impressed with his meal at the restaurant he offered to invest, Nusr-et opened various locations in the Middle East including Ankara, Doha and Dubai.
Sexiest butcher on Instagram
Nusret’s Salt Bae fame happened almost overnight in January 2017, when he posted a 36-second video called Ottoman Steak on Instagram.
The clip shows him slicing a boned steak then performing his trademark move – with his hand shaped “like a cobra” and rock salt bouncing off his arm onto the meat.
Bruno Mars tweeted the video, which instantly went viral and gained 2.4million views overnight. It has now been viewed 17million times.
The move – and the classic white T-shirt and black jeans that would become Salt Bae’s working uniform – was born and earned him the title “sexiest butcher on Instagram.”
"All of my feelings are coming from inside of the meat, down to when I put the salt onto the meat,” he once explained.
Hanging out with Beckham and captivating DiCaprio
Success meant expansion in the US, with restaurants in Dallas, Boston, Beverly Hills and New York, as well as Mykonos in Greece.
Celebrities including Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, DJ Khaled and Naomi Campbell flocked to the US outlets and one post on the firm’s Instagram shows Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio captivated as his tomahawk is showered with salt by the chef.
It also brought the trappings of wealth, and in 2019, Nusret splashed out £36million on the famed Macka Palace in the Sisli district of Istanbul.
After spending two years running his restaurants around the globe, Nusret announced he wanted to spend more time in the Turkish city and moved into an apartment within the palace which was once owned by 20th-century playwright Abdülhak Hâmid Tarhan, popularly known in Turkey as the Grand Poet.
He is also thought to have homes in the US, where he is often pictured by a private pool in Beverly Hills, as well as riding horses on what looks like a ranch.
The busy chef is never seen behind the wheel of a car but travels in style – with one video featuring a pair of chauffeur driven Rolls Royces worth over £250,000 each.
In another, where he parodies a scene from The Godfather, he is driven up to a huge stately home in a vintage model.
Nine kids with mystery women?
Despite being surrounded by beautiful female diners in many of his posts, and happily flirting with them, mystery surrounds the love life of the Turkish chef.
Recent pictures suggest he is dating model Candy Denat, although he once claimed he was too busy for a relationship, getting up at 3am to go to meat markets and getting just five hours sleep at night.
“I'm so concentrated on meat that I can't see a woman or anything,” he said. “I don't have any time for a girlfriend.”
But he recently posted a picture of himself surrounded by NINE children, with the caption: “The man who does not spend time with his family is not a real man."
The picture, which included a newborn, led fans to believe the children were his and other posts – including one with a little boy wearing a butcher’s apron and shade with the caption “the future” – seemed to confirm this.
But any partner he does choose will have to compete with his first love – meat.
“I love meat. I can't imagine a life without meat. I eat meat seven days a week. Including breakfast,” he says. “I can't finish my breakfast without either smoked meat or sausage.”
Luckily for Salt Bae, he’s not alone – and his customers' love of meat has provided a lavish lifestyle and a bulging bank balance.
But he claims he’s still the same butcher’s boy who scraped by on nothing in Istanbul.
“My life hasn’t changed,” he told NBC News. “I still keep going to work from the morning until midnight.”
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