It’s easy to look at Nusret’s (a.k.a. “salt bae”) videos, and see him as a lucky, crude showman, and attribute his success solely to his famous “Ottoman Steak” video. As it is virtually always the case with “overnight successes,” Nusret’s success can not be further from “overnight.”
Rags to riches
The life university at the age of 15! pic.twitter.com/mKw44kHydI— Nusret #saltbae (@nusr_ett) February 24, 2018
According to an interview from 2015, Nusret is one of the five children of a coal-mine worker from Turkey, he drops out of middle school, apparently partly because he didn’t like traditional schooling, and partly because the financial situation of his family didn’t allow him to continue. So, what does he do after that?
At first, he works 18-hour days as an apprentice with ten butchers at times, without taking any time off. In 2009, at the age of 26, with no foreign language skills, he maxes out his credit card, and uses his savings to take a trip to Argentina to learn the way they grow animals and their butchering and cooking techniques.
After three months of wandering around farms, butchers and restaurants in Argentina, he goes back to Turkey to his previous job. He dreams of going to the US, but his visa requests keep getting rejected. I mean, who is he to be let in to the “land of opportunities,” no money to show and with only rudimentary English…
He eventually manages to get a three-month visa, showing the embassy a few magazines and newspapers he managed to get on after going to Argentina. In New York, Nusret works at four restaurants without a legal permit, and for no pay. Just imagine that for a moment… Going to a country where you don’t speak the language, with no idea what to expect, convincing these big restaurant owners to allow you to work at their restaurants.
The attitude of a master craftsman
Nusret then goes on to open his own restaurant in 2010 in Turkey. In an interview the same year, he talks about how that happened, and also provides a glimpse of his attitude towards work.
This part is really interesting. Nusret says that many people offered to partner up with him to open up a restaurant, including some celebrities, but he chose one of his long-time customers. He mentions in the interview that he noticed that this guy hadn’t been visiting the restaurant he worked at for over a month. He knew that because he kept track of his regular customers, saving their names along with their photos on his phone. When he called him to ask when he’d visit again, they started talking about partnering up. This is not the attitude of a guy who only knows how to make Instagram posts of him salting meat.
In the same interview, he also says that on the days he needs to buy meat he wakes up at 3am to pick the top quality meat himself, and regularly works until after midnight. Reading about his attitude reminds me of the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (which is an amazing documentary about the chef of one of the best sushi restaurants in the world, go watch it if you haven’t done so). I’m not trying to say that they are exactly at the same level of craftsmanship, whatever that would mean, as I have tried the restaurants of neither, but it’s clear that they both have similar care and attitude towards their craft.
So, the next time you see one of Nusret’s Instagram posts, and think that he is just a showman who got lucky, don’t be so sure. He is no doubt a great showman who is a master at capitalizing on his social media fame, but don’t forget that as in many “overnight success” stories, there is a crazy amount of hustle hidden behind the scenes.
I’ll end this post with a short quote from one of Nusret’s New York Times interviews:
“Being tired isn’t anything. What’s important is the mind. The body being tired isn’t important. You can get over the body being tired by resting for a half-hour or an hour. 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.” – Nusret Gökçe