“Try the deer heart,” Boris Akimov suggests from behind a bushy beard. My stomach sinks, but I cannot refuse: Akimov is a demigod in the Moscow food world, and we are sitting in LavkaLavka, the flagship restaurant of the LavkaLavka farmers’ cooperative. The crimson meat comes thinly sliced atop a celery puree, with a garnish of cowberry sorbet. It’s surprisingly tender.
When I first visited the cooperative five years ago, its footprint was limited to a cramped shop and café hidden in a labyrinthine courtyard, and its focus on fresh produce and homemade delicacies was still novel. Russian cuisine remained mired in a Soviet-era bog of potatoes and borscht. Fine dining mostly involved imported cuisine, and locavorism remained foreign, at least in concept. Yet over the past several years, a band of Russian farmers, chefs, and restaurateurs have launched a revival of Russian gastronomy.
They have found an unlikely ally in President Vladimir Putin. After the West slapped sanctions on Russia for annexing Crimea and stoking a war in Ukraine’s east in 2014, Putin responded by banning agricultural imports from the European Union, the U.S., and several other countries. Customs inspectors made a show of destroying banned products at the border, resulting in surreal scenes of cheese thrown into incinerators and geese flattened by bulldozers.