Vietnamese noodle vendor summoned by police over his video imitating ‘Salt Bae’ chef

Bui Tuan Lam says the hand-delivered notice does not say why police want to talk to him.
2021.11.16
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Vietnamese noodle vendor and former activist Bui Tuan Lam seasons a dish in the theatrical style of Turkish celebrity chef Salt Bae.
Photo: RFA

Police in the coastal Vietnamese city of Danang summoned a former activist who runs a beef noodle stall for questioning Tuesday after he posted a video on social media in which he imitated a celebrity chef who had hand fed gold-coated beef to the country’s public security chief in a video that went viral this month.

The police came knocking six days after noodle vendor Bui Tuan Lam posted a video clip of himself on Facebook gyrating and spreading salt like Turkish celebrity chef and social media star known as Salt Bae, who served a pricey cut of beef to Vietnam’s top cop To Lam in early November.

Salt Bae, whose real name is Nusret Gökçe, served a Golden Giant Tomahawk steak to To and his entourage in London, where they stopped after representing Vietnam at the United Nations climate change conference in Scotland.

A video of To’s party being fed the U.S. $1,975 piece of meat obtained by RFA’s Vietnamese Service went viral, prompting social media comments raising questions about the propriety of a Communist Party official on a monthly salary of roughly U.S. $660 eating such a luxury meal. Subsequent media reports noted the delegation had also visited the London grave of Karl Marx during the trip.

Bui, known as Peter Lam Bui among activists in Vietnam, used to be active in human rights and justice advocacy.

In his video clip, Bui calls himself “Onion Leaf Bae” after the signature move of the celebrity chef, who writhed dramatically as he sprinkled salt on To’s steak.

“This morning they came to my house — two officers from the city security agency, an officer in charge of my locality, and, of course, some plainclothes person doing filming outside,” Bui told RFA.

The reason for the summons was not clear and only said that it requested that Bui go to an office “to provide information about a criminal dealing for investigation work,” he said.

A video of the police visit recorded by Bui shows him asking officers for the reason for the summons, but he was not given one.

“I refused [to go] and said that if the reason was stated clearly in the order, I would work with them because in principle the order is related to a legal case, so it cannot be so general given that someone could be indicted based on what I said,” Bui said.

After listening to Bui’s explanation, the police officers threatened to forcefully escort him to their office, he said.

The video clip might not be primary reason for his most recent summons, Bui suggested, noting that he has received such notices in past months and ignored them.

But he added that his imitation of Salt Bae may have irritated police enough for them to follow up.

“For me, the clip’s impact, if any, is just that they are upset by having to deliver the summons,” he said. “They have had it in mind for a long time to summons me.”

Gökçe, 38, has opened 17 steak restaurants around the world, and videos of his meat-salting performances have been seen and shared by millions. When his London eatery opened in September, it was slammed for U.S. $34 desserts and U.S. $135 hamburgers in the British press, which ran features on stratospheric Salt Bae dinner tabs.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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