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Delving into Russia's Past to Build the Future

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Vladimir Mukhin of Moscow’s White Rabbit on the revival of Russian and the birth of its first international festival IKRA.

Vladimir Mukhin took the stage at Food on the Edge, in October 2018in Galway, Ireland with the aim of smashing stereotypes about Russia and Russian food. "In order to think about the future, you have to understand what went before", Mukhin started.

Mukhin is at the vanguard of the resurgence in Russia’s food identity. His Moscow restaurant White Rabbit came in at 15th on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2018. Russia seems like a very far away place compared to Galway on the Atlantic, but the culinary history of Russia shares something with that of Ireland, that of a lost history, and Mukhin is dedicated to uncovering that story.

“For me it’s incredible that I am here and if I ask, ‘what do you think about Russian cuisine?’, even if you ask this question in Russia they cannot answer. We had 75 years of the Soviet Union when we totally killed our kitchen” 

Mukhin recalled how, as a young child his father, also a chef, would come home from the restaurant, crying because he couldn’t change the recipes. The reason was because the owner of the restaurant was the State, you couldn’t change the recipes. For example, if you wanted to make tea with milk, the state would forbid it. Every chef cooked with just one state-approved cookbook called ‘The Healthy and Tasty Food’.

“If you went against the state and created different recipes you could find yourself In big trouble, you could go to jail, it was a crazy time”, said Mukhin.

IKRA festival, Russia’s first international food festival, the next instalment happening in March this year, is a celebration of Russian cuisine. Where a lot of international chefs come to Moscow and cook with Russian ingredients. It is a demonstration of just how far Russian cuisine has come; curious and dedicated to uncovering the past, yet open and innovative about the future. It transcends stereotypes and cultural boundaries. There is still a lot of work to be done by Mukhin and the new wave of Russian chefs, but they remain undaunted, in fact, they are energised and striving forward.

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