EntertainmentCelebritiesMaybe Leo Messi ignores Salt Bae, but the rest...

Maybe Leo Messi ignores Salt Bae, but the rest of the world can’t stop looking at him

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The second time Salt Bae went viral was over an embarrassing affair. Perhaps he had the lucrative consequences of the first one in mind, because he didn’t seem to care too much. It happened a few days ago, when, after the victory of the Argentine team in the World Cup, this famous Turkish cook —whose first name is Nusret Gökçe— jumped onto the soccer field ready to get a selfie with the protagonists.

And he did it. Gökçe took the photo and the intended virality, but not for the reasons he expected. In a video that accumulates 16 million views, he is seen harassing Leo Messi, begging for a photo based on the obvious discomfort of the footballer, who was trying to talk to his family and friends.

Salt Bae became a trend on Twitter then because his videos showed the seams of virality, the miseries that the perfect photo hides, the one capable of accumulating thousands of likes. More than a world-famous gastronomic entrepreneur, with 20 restaurants and 50 million followers on Instagram, he seemed like an engaged laborer, a happy Mocito eager to elbow his way into the photo. But this isn’t about selfies, it’s not even about fame. This is about how both can be turned into money.

The first time Gökçe went viral was due to a ridiculous gesture. On January 7, 2017, the Twitter account of his restaurant published a video in which the chef appeared adding salt to a steak with an abracadabrant movement. The video accumulated more than 10 million views on Instagram and its protagonist was baptized as Salt Bae (something like salt darling in English).

Far from hiding and waiting for the storm to get worse, Gökçe rode the wave of virality and knew how to surf it with class. She appropriated the derogatory nickname that the internet had given her and began to publish hundreds of photos and videos repeating her gesture. Celebrities started visiting her London restaurant and the chef posted videos alongside them. Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the first, but David Beckham, Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, P. Diddy and even Nicolás Maduro also passed through his tables. He made his gesture to all of them, throwing a fine shower of salt on the steak. Then he dedicated himself to finding new content for the networks. He began by telling his story.

Nusret Gökçe was born in 1983 into a poor family in Turkey. He had to drop out of school as a child to help out at home. At the age of 14 he started working as a kitchen assistant for a butcher in order to earn some money. He then traveled the world to learn all the secrets of meat. At the age of 27, with his savings, he started a small restaurant. Today, he is one of the most famous chefs in the world. The Turkish press estimates a fortune valued at 50 million dollars (similar to the change in euros). Part of them come from the chain of 20 restaurants, of which he is chef, image and owner of 25% of the total. It is the perfect story, the one that fits like a glass slipper into the mental framework of the American dream, the one that gets you likes on social media and magazine covers.

When his story was already well told, Gökçe exchanged salt for gold. He ran his menu through a golden sieve and began inflating the prices. Thus he added new dishes to his menu such as the gold-plated Tomahawk ribeye for about 600 pounds (683 euros to change) or the Golden cappuccino for 50 (56 euros). The idea was to continue generating content for networks and he succeeded.

According to 2018 research from The Outline, the average meme has a lifespan of four months. Salt Bae has been mining his for six years. He knew how to hack it and turn it into a profitable way of life. The protagonists of viral images such as Succesful kid or Disaster girl have not been able to profit from viral fame, beyond selling the image with which they became famous in NFT format; but Gökçe has created a whole empire on that image.

“Salt Bae is different, not because its fame is not the result of chance (it is), but because it has turned it into a gastronomic experience, built to serve content,” Wired magazine explained last year in an article in the who wondered how this Turkish cook had become such a bottomless pit of news. In the week before its publication, 149 articles were written about him on the internet. And not because anything out of the ordinary had happened. Salt Bae sells and the British tabloids know it. That’s why they write topics like “Diners at Salt Bae’s restaurant complain that their food is too SALTY”, “This is not a drill: Salt Bae is in the park feeding the pigeons” or “Salt Bae is unrecognizable in a friend’s pre-fame photo.”

Gökçe knows that feeding his customers is as important to his business as feeding the algorithm. That is why he replicates all the news that is written about him —good, bad and regular— on his Instagram profile. But the relationship is symbiotic and he also knows how to give content to the media. After the photos with celebrities and the golden steaks came the stratospheric accounts. Bae publishes them regularly, aware that what is scandalous for many is free publicity for him. The last one was a few weeks ago, when the German driver Sebastian Vettel celebrated his retirement from Formula 1 with a dinner at one of the Gökçe chain restaurants next to the main floor of the tracks. The chef published the dinner bill: 615,065 dirhams, which with the current exchange amount to 163,275 euros. The publication concentrated hundreds of comments, mostly negative, and nearly 900,000 likes. It was a success.

When, last Sunday, December 18, Nusret Gökçe took to the field, he didn’t want a photo with Leo Messi, he wanted content. And he got it. His name has not stopped ringing in recent days and that is what matters. Virality is the lubricant of a business machine that has not stopped working since 2017. And it is not going to stop.

Yesterday afternoon, Gökçe posted a new video. In it, she can be seen chatting animatedly with friends at one of his restaurants. One of the friends is Leo Messi, who interrupts the chef’s conversation —who takes a few seconds to turn to the footballer— and gives him, first his hand and then a hug. The video is short, just a few seconds, but it will provide enough content for the next few weeks. Gökçe’s machinery is still oiled and at cruising speed.

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