National News

It’s Work and a Pinch of Play for Restaurateur Salt Bae

Posted February 17, 2018 8:49 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — Nusret Gokce never imagined an Instagram video of him sprinkling salt over a tomahawk steak in 2017 would go viral. But it did. The internet christened him Salt Bae, which the chef and restaurateur has embraced as he expands his steakhouse chain beyond Turkey and the Middle East — most recently, to midtown Manhattan.

“Americans and New Yorkers love me very much,” Gokce said over breakfast recently at his restaurant, Nusr-Et, a play on his first name.

He wore his usual outfit: a white scoop T-shirt and dark sunglasses, hair pulled back. He spoke a slow, rudimentary English as he picked apart exactly eight hard-boiled eggs to consume just the whites. Through a translator found in the kitchen, Gokce described a strict work regimen that dates back to his days as a butcher, toiling to provide for his family in Turkey, and to his service in the military.

Now, not surprisingly, his toiling is rewarded with luxury amenities at the end of the night: For now, Gokce, a 35-year-old bachelor (with 13 children), is living at the Plaza hotel, a short trip from his newest restaurant.

ENERGY ADJUSTMENT: Sunday morning I wake up at like 6 or 6:30 to go to the gym. I drink a glass of water and then, before I start my workout, I drink a cup of coffee. I love myself. I want to look stronger and be better. I leave all of the negative energy there and go to the restaurant with more positive energy.

PROTEIN-HEAVY: Sometimes I go a little excessive on the workout, for about an hour or an hour and a half, but I’m at the restaurant by 9 at the latest. I eat a protein-heavy diet. I eat oatmeal a lot, before I work out, or after. In the morning after my workout, I eat egg whites, very little toasted bread, cheese, tomatoes.

READY THE MEATS: So when I come in the morning, I gather my cooks. I talk to them about what we did last night, what is missing, what we should do to be better. Then after our recap of everything, I start preparing my meats for the day.

SHOW TIME: Most of the meats are served at the tables. I do it myself, personally. When I go to each table, the meat is cut and served. After I cut it, I do the move. I don’t have time to take a break. This is a busy place and people want to come here to see me and be served by me.

QUICK BITE: At around 6 I have nuts. Before dinner is served in the restaurant, at about 7 or 7:30, I have my dinner. After that, I won’t eat anything at all.

PERSONAL TOUCH: I go to the same table, sometimes three times. I don’t see myself as a butcher or just a restaurant owner. I view my job as an art because I make art out of meat and the move is like a final touch on this art. It came from within me.

ASSESS: It starts to slow down toward midnight. Finally, I assess how happy the tables were and evaluate the operation. If people want to have photographs taken, I take photographs. I like music very much. Before I leave, at the end of the day, we listen to three to five songs.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE: I’m the last to leave. One of the most important criteria for this work is that people follow you. I’m a leader at the restaurant. If I do this, the people at the restaurant will try to do better. I believe in that and that’s the way it is. This is how it continues. Every day for me is the same.

ROLL TO THE PLAZA: So, after I finish, at around 2, I take my self-balancing board and go to my hotel on that.

AREN’T YOU EXHAUSTED? Being tired isn’t anything. What’s important is whether the mind is tired. And because I work out and love my work so much, I don’t feel tired.

DECOMPRESS: I wash up and look at the news of the day. At the hotel there’s a TV directly across from me, but I don’t have time to watch it. I do a mental evaluation of the day, then go to sleep.