“Serving Up Satisfaction,” New Era, Apr. 2009, 37–38
Lya Luna Becnel doesn’t just slice fruit or arrange food. To watch her in a kitchen is to watch an artist in action.
She chooses the plate the way a painter selects a canvas. She wraps several flavors of Mediterranean olives in carefully selected slices of dry sausage, and does the same with salad greens. She places four types of cheese in the foreground, with an oriental ladle holding a sauce made of fruit and mustard. As her personal signature, she adds an apple, carefully cut and sculpted into the shape of a swan. The swan is a symbol with deep meaning to her.
When Lya was a young girl growing up in Tehuacan, Mexico, she saw a food magazine that inspired her. “On the front cover was a beautiful white swan carved from jicama (an edible root) and on the back was an exquisite turkey made from pieces of watermelon and other fruit,” she says. “I can still remember the artistry of those sculptures. The image of them stayed in my mind, and a voice inside me said, ‘Someday, you will make one of those.’” It wasn’t until years later, in a professional cooking class, that Lya was trained to carve a swan exactly like the one she had seen so long before.
Today, Lya is fulfilling her lifelong dream to serve others (literally) by preparing beautiful, nutritious food. In Europe and the U.S. she counsels cooks about the quality of their meals, prepares fancy dinners at gourmet restaurants and in people’s homes, and also teaches cooking and nutrition classes. She is known for the excellent food she prepares and the way she presents it. “Food is art,” she says. “Having it look good is part of having it taste good.”
But getting where she wanted to be has not been, shall we say, a piece of cake.
“My parents wanted me to be a doctor,” she says. After counseling with them and praying, she finally agreed she would study nutrition. That would allow her to be around food and yet still be involved in a medically related field. After college, she began work as a nutritionist in Mexico City. She loved the working environment and the people, but she still longed to be a chef. After giving the job a fair chance, she counseled with her parents again and mapped out a new plan.
“I prayed to Heavenly Father and asked Him to guide me,” she says. “Then I did all the research I could about culinary schools.” She saved money, studied English as a second language, then enrolled in a cooking school in London, England. That opened up the opportunity for her to also have apprenticeships—if she would work without pay. She did and gained experience as well as forming friendships with several of the top chefs in the world.
“Working without pay was hard,” she says. “I had to cater private dinners on the side to pay my way through school.” She also found a job at a restaurant equipment company in France, preparing meals and demonstrating professional ovens. For a year and a half, between school and work and various apprenticeships in two countries, her days were filled with long, hard work. “I had to pay the rent, and I had to pay for transportation, but I always had food because I was always allowed to eat in the restaurants.”
She also kept her standards high. “Living the Word of Wisdom was less of a challenge than some people might think,” she says. “For example, when people invited me to have a glass of wine, which is a big part of the restaurant business, I explained that I don’t drink alcohol. They respected that. And when people would party or suggest immoral activities, I would explain that my standards were different. We were colleagues at work, but I didn’t hang out with them in places that would bring me down.”
Lya and her husband, who is also a chef, offer this advice about careers: “Find something you love doing and that you’ll want to do for your entire life. Set goals and work hard, then pray, be humble, and follow your heart.”