Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Venting through a culinary metaphor

You would think that the worst thing that could happen to your project is for it to be canceled… or… put on hold. But you’re wrong: This is much worse.

I’ve been cooking a meal since August. This wasn’t just any meal. It was big, important, with a hugely good and nice cause behind it. It was the first time I felt like I finally owned something great, something I personally cared about, something so good at heart that as challenging as it could be, it kept me going for the end users. I couldn’t wait to see it out there, and be able to point to it and say: I did that.

The meal was turning so good. Everyone who had a taste of it simply loved it and was as excited as I was to see it out of the kitchen, served on a real dinner plate, being consumed by real people. And then, once the rest of the kitchen team came on board, it all went to hell. I’m not in liberty to discuss (nor do I think you care to hear) all the nitty gritty details behind the tragedy, so let’s just say that what happened I attribute to the three usual suspects: politics, poor management, and unrealistic expectations.

The final effect is that my meal won’t come out of the kitchen. See, I was just part of a big team. I can’t get the dish out of the kitchen. We need other type of cooks for that… I was told to do my very best, so I was making paella. The client loved and needed paella… and he really liked what I was making, but once the other cooks told him how much it would cost them to get the dish out of the kitchen, things started going sour.

In an attempt to save the deal, the cooks decided to send 85% of the cooking to Cobrita, a small caterer. Cobrita has some tasteless rice already made, so the cooks figured it would be cheaper for Cobrita to turn that into paella, and then the cooks would come and throw the shrimp to the final dish. I’m not really sure how it was that they convinced the client that in the end he’d still have paella at a fraction of the original cost estimated. But they did it: The client is excited by the new direction and gave the cooks an enthusiastic go ahead.

But you don’t need a business degree to figure out that tasteless rice can’t be turned into a gourmet paella for a fraction of the cost it takes to make paella from scratch. Rice is cheap. The real cost is in all the other ingredients… The ones I had collected and planned so carefully. The only way how you can make paella at $1 is by… well… not making paella. In the end, if the idea is to save money, the client won’t have paella; he will have rice and peas. If the client insists on getting paella, he will get a bad paella at the same cost (or more) it would’ve taken to make it right from the beginning, as opposed to from some old tasteless rice.

What happens to the meal I was cooking?… I believe that it goes to the trash can. However, the cooks don’t want to admit that, and assure me that it will be carefully frozen and kept for the next time they can go in the kitchen and make some real food.

This upsets me in so many levels…

First of all, I am so disappointed and embarrassed that the final product will likely be rice and peas, just one step above the plain rice the client is currently offering to his guests. As part of my work, I had offered tastings to some of the guests and they were so ready for this new and improved meal.

Second, at a personal level I feel absolutely depressed to see all the fine work I’ve done for the last 11 months sent to the trash can, or as others want me to believe: to a freezer, from which I know it will never come out… at least not as good as fresh.

Third: Professionally, what do I have to show now?
Sure, I’ve been paid for my work and everyone believes that it was great work, but the dish I’ve put my whole heart on will never be tasted by anybody. What’s coming out of the kitchen is rice and peas. And worse, it won’t even be my rice and peas. I have just been told that I need to hand off the kitchen to a new cook who needs to learn all the ins and outs of my paella sooner than later so he/she can replace me before I go on maternity leave. I’ve been assured that other jobs await me, but I just know that tonight I’ll have my recurring “financial security” nightmare: that one where something horrible happens to all of my teeth (i.e. they fall off, or explode in my mouth, or become loose… either way I lose them all).

A few months from now a new public announcement will be made… This time the announcement will talk about the project I owned, congratulating those that made it happen, and my name won’t be there at all. Obviously, I don’t really want any credit for some rice and peas I’m not responsible for. But after 11 months of work, once more I’ll have to witness how I can’t seem to get any credit for any good work I’m ever involved in. Some time ago I gave up all aspirations of ever becoming a well-known professional in my field, but dude… at least I wanted to be given credit for the good work I’ve done. I’m starting to think that at some point I’ll just have to settle for being a good mom. Right now I care too much about all of what has happened. I keep talking in my head to all the people that have taken this project — my baby — so off the tracks. Maybe once I become a mother, these professional downs will bother me less…