There are few people in this world that I consider more ridiculous than the meat maestro commonly known as Salt Bae. That overly coiffured ponytail, those silly sunglasses, the awkward tilt of his wrist and the way his pinky finger extends up towards the heavens as if he were taking tea with the queen.
I have watched in disbelief as his caricature-like showmanship has captivated Leonardo DiCaprio and moved Maradona almost to tears. I have been left flummoxed as his celebrity following has grown to include Naomi Campbell, David Beckham, P Diddy, myriad footballers and members of royalty. I felt strangely vindicated when he opened his restaurant in New York and was forced to wear gloves because of health and safety regulations. Even more so when he was sued by a former employee for reportedly withholding tips from his staff.
Salt Bae’s unfathomable rise began in earnest in January 2017, when he posted a 36-second video of himself performing his signature moves.
One man plus one hunk of meat plus a sprinkling of salt equals Internet sensation. Within 48 hours, the post had 2.4 million views. To date, it has 14,746,977. Is this is really where we are as a species? Deifying a man for being able to garnish a meal?
Needless to say, I have given Nusr-et, the restaurant concept that Salt Bae (is that supposed to be a play on bey, as in Ottoman chieftain, and bae, the oh-so-hip acronym for "before anyone else"?) launched in Turkey and has since taken to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Miami and New York, a wide berth. There are plenty of other places to get a decent steak in Dubai, without all the affected table-side theatrics.
And then, last week, for reasons beyond my control, I found myself at the Four Season Resort Dubai, heading to a dinner date at Salt Bae’s infamous manor. Even though it was a Monday night, people were queuing to get in. The gentleman checking reservations eyed me with clinical detachment before allowing me through the hallowed doors. The place was packed and the vibe was lively.
Yes, the staff (fashioned in the mould of their famous leader) performed their carnivorous theatre – clanking knives against plates and sprinkling salt with that duck-handed flourish. But they did it in a way that was unexpectedly self-deprecating – as if they knew (behind their comical moustaches and jaunty caps) that it was all ever-so-slightly ridiculous. They were friendly and efficient and unexpectedly endearing.
And the food, I’m almost loath to say, was truly excellent. It turns out that the man who managed to turn sprinkling salt into an Insta-worthy art form also knows a thing or two about cooking meat. We opted for the Ottoman steak and short rib – both were exceptional.
But it was the beef carpaccio starter, which, at the table, our waiter theatrically coated in aged Balsamic, olive oil and crispy flakes of Parmesan, before rolling it into a pancake and slicing it into four pieces – that stole the show.
So I apologise Mr Bae. I misjudged you. There is, it turns out, more to your strange art than flounce and flourish.