Misha Japaridze/Reuters

When he was released from a Soviet prison in 1990, Yevgeny Prigozhin went to work as a hot dog salesman. Soon, the budding entrepreneur—who had just served nine years for robbery and fraud—began moving up in the world of gastronomy. He became the manager of a chain of grocery stores in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hometown, and eventually expanded into the restaurant business.

In the late 1990s, Prigozhin opened New Island, a floating restaurant on St. Petersburg’s Vyatka river. It became popular with the local elite, and a few years after its launch, Putin showed up for dinner at New Island with French President Jacques Chirac. As has now become lore in certain circles, Prigozhin himself waited on them.

Prigozhin, who would come to be known as “Putin’s chef,” has said that New Island was inspired by the waterfront restaurants he saw along the Seine in Paris. But as…

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