This weighty, 1200 page volume is a reliable gold standard among culinary works. It should not surprise that it is originally a work published in French (Larousse is a major French publisher that specializes in encyclopedic volumes on many subjects). The inevitability of the volume is based on the premier place of French cuisine on the world stage and on the very European tradition of publishing great omnibus works on just about every subject imaginable. It was Diderot in 17th century France who invented the encyclopedia and great references in most subjects are available in French or German or even Italian long before they are available in English.
The blurb on the front of my edition states that the Larousse Gastronomique is the 'World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia'. I cannot judge this statement for volumes available in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Hindi, or Arabic. But, in English, this is undoubtedly true. This statement is true not only for the size of the volume, but for the great range of subjects the editors have chosen to include. The entries cover all the obvious things such as vegetables, meats, fish, shellfish, herbs, spices, fruits, and spice mixtures.
On these subjects, the writers do not limit themselves to a simple description of appearance, taste, seasonality, geographic distribution, and a statement of culinary uses. It includes representative recipes for almost all basic foodstuffs, the number depending on the relative importance of the food. The entry for aubergines (eggplant) includes a general recipe for the preparation of the vegetable plus eight recipes within the article itself plus references to eight other recipes under other articles. The drawings or photographs accompanying articles on major foodstuffs like aubergines are truly first rate. I am pleased, but not surprised at this, as I have come to expect European editors to do as good or better job of illustrating books than American publishers, especially where these illustrations are an important aspect of the work. Regarding the illustrations in general, the genius of the editors is in the great variety of media used in the pictures. Where technical detail is important, color drawings are used to focus on the important and hide the incidental in pictures of raw ingredients, for example. Where a prepared dish is pictured, photographs are typically used. Where the subject is a geographical or historical subject, the first choice is usually an historical engraving, painting, or cartoon.
If the book covered no more than these foods, it would be a valuable work indeed, but it also covers such diverse subjects as geographical regions of culinary interest such as Provence, both common and rare kitchen tools such as the autoclave and the bain marie, culinary songs such as chants used by street vendors in Paris, types of eating establishments such as café, bistro, and restaurant. One of my favorite things is to be looking for a particular entry and run across some other totally appropriate, yet totally unexpected entry. My most recent find is an article on the traditional fraternal orders and associations of culinary professionals in place in France, some since the Middle Ages. This relatively long article is accompanied by full color pictures of the robes worn by members of these orders.
The range of subjects covered by the book is quite international, but there is a clear emphasis on French techniques, history, produce, and dishes. The coverage of wine and cheese around the world is extensive, as these products are so important to French gastronomy. Some subjects that are very important to Asian cuisines get relatively little attention. Soy gets a half page article, and miso gets no more than a paragraph. Lemons get a page and a half, yet lemongrass has no article at all. On the other hand, techniques for butchering a chicken get two full pages.
I do not often refer to the Larousse Gastronomique for recipes, but it is always my reference of last resort when all other sources fail. The only culinary question on which it is mute is on substitutions. A replacement for buttermilk can be found in any number of lesser references, yet the Gastronomique simply does not cover this.
The Larousse Gastronomique is simply the essential reference to French technique, ingredients, culinary history, and geography. Get this before you get your Julia Child and your Jaques Pepin and your Patricia Wells. I seriously doubt if the latest editions have any significant improvements over used editions of thirty or even fifty years ago. Just be sure to get one in good condition. You will refer to it often.