A video of a high-ranking official from Vietnam’s ruling communist party being fed a gold-plated steak by celebrity chef Salt Bae has drawn the ire of millions, as the country struggles with severe food shortages and worsening poverty rates amid the pandemic.
Adding a touch of irony to events was a very public pilgrimage the official had led to Karl Marx’s grave in London just prior.
Serving as Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security, To Lam was leading a delegation at the COP26 climate summit held in Glasgow, Scotland this month. Back in London on Nov. 2, the group posed for photos at the grave of “The Father of Communism”, laying wreaths and paying their respects, according to Vietnamese state media.
The controversial video, posted to the celebrity chef’s 11 million TikTok followers on Nov. 3, showed the Vietnamese delegation feasting on meat believed to cost up to $2,000 at Salt Bae’s—real name Nusret Gokce—restaurant Nusr-e.
In the one-minute clip, platters of gold-leaf steak are seen served up to the delegates’ table, tended to by Salt Bae himself. In true Salt Bae style, the celebrity chef puts on a performance—theatrically slicing the meat and sprinkling salt in his signature style. Using a steak knife, he picks up a slab of gold covered meat and hand-feeds To Lam. The Vietnamese official gives his approval with a thumbs up.
The irony of the scenes were lost on few, with footage of the controversial dining experience quickly spreading across TikTok, Facebook and Twitter, even after the original was pulled down.
Who paid for the meal and how much it cost remains unknown, with prices not listed on Nusr-e’s website. But given Salt Bae’s reputation for extravagance, as well as an eye-watering bill that surfaced online from the London restaurant last month, the cost likely ran into the thousands. As a minister, To Lam’s official wage is $600 to $800 a month.
Vietnamese human rights activist Hoang Dung was part of a wave of social media criticism emanating from the socialist country, struggling with rising poverty and hunger amid a surge in COVID-19 infections this year. Hoang denounced the opulent meal and questioned why a work event, potentially paid for by taxpayer money, was held at such an expensive restaurant.
The celebrity chef rose to internet fame after his distinctive method for seasoning meat became a meme. This isn’t the first time a communist official has faced criticism for enjoying an extravagant banquet at one of Gokce’s establishments, with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro generating controversy when he dined at his restaurant in Turkey in 2018 at a time when three quarters of the country was living in extreme poverty.
Vietnamese officials are yet to comment on the criticism.
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