Many years ago in the Dark Ages before the Internet existed, I worked in the Art Department of Encyclopaedia Britannica. In those Internet-deprived days, Encyclopaedia Britannica staff had access to the greatest and most interesting time-waster of the day: each cubicle had it's own up to date complete set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I blush in shame when I think of the hours I spent browsing through the volumes when I should have been working. I would start off legitimately looking up one item for something work related and in passing another entry would catch my eye. Reading that would make me wonder about some other related topic...and so on and on.
Well, I have just found the foodie's equivalent.
My new Concise Larousse Gastronomique has the same draw I remember from those Encyclopaedia Britannica days. Each entry leads me to another question that I must have answered NOW. Did you know that every pressed duck made at the Tour d'Argent in Paris has been numbered and they have now exceeded 600,000 of them? Fact. Charlie Chaplin ate duck #253,652. If you are interested in the subtleties of French vocabulary in cooking, this book can tell you the difference between effiler (snap the ends off green beans or slice almonds and pistachio nuts in thin strips lengthwise) and effilocher (which is similar but is particularly used to describe cutting leeks into fine threads). In addition to the titbits of information and history, basic recipes on all the great French classics are included, from Hare with Chocolate to Sauce Robert. The cheese entry tells you how many calories your favorite fatty cheeses have and when to buy each one. It's a truly fun book.
The cover of the Concise Larousse Gastronomique has the subtitle "The World's Greatest Cookery Encyclopedia" and a quote from Anthony Bourdain: "The absolutely indispensable bible of cooking." I have to agree with both statements. This is undoubtedly the world's greatest cookery encyclopedia and it's fair enough to describe it as a bible. However, that is not necessarily the compliment you might think.
I think this is probably the best cookery encyclopedia because there aren't that any others out there that are so complete. It's miles more comprehensive than my Barron's Food Companion. BUT (and it's a big but) it's oh so very French. It has a nod in the direction of other mainly European cuisines: Italian and Spanish and even English. But you won't find nachos or sloppy joes in this book. It has Mexican tortillas, but not enchiladas or burritos. This brings me to the second accolade mentioned above: it's the bible of cooking. And what is the bible? Set in stone, conservative. The Larousse has entries on all the great DEAD chefs of Europe. If it has any live ones, I haven't seen them yet.
So it's a classic. Don't turn to it to find out how to cook Australian yabbies. But as a bible of classic European food, with a couple of forays into "exotic" foods, it is supreme. I don't regret a single cent of the monumental 47.50 euros I paid in W.H. Smith's (with a gift certificate) for this book. It's a hoot. Go buy one yourself (or get a friend to buy it for you)!