Life on the high seas
Couple built family life while working with Royal CaribbeanSunday, November 08, 2020
When Janet Jackson and Roderick Dinnall left Jamaica years ago to take up job offers with Royal Caribbean International, nothing could have prepared them for the world of cruise shipping.
Jackson, who hails from St Ann, and who had dining room supervisory experience with hotel chains Sandals and SuperClubs, left 20 years ago with the hope of a similar set up, while Dinnall, a pastry genius and student of grandma's kitchen back in his native Portland, had his sights firmly planted on what he felt would be a plum kitchen job with the world's second largest cruise line.
Suffice to say, neither situation materialised, leaving both at a crossroad, pondering whether to take up what was being offered — a pot washer in Dinnall's case and an assistant waitress for Jackson — or to simply return to the confines of their homeland.“I left Jamaica 20 years ago with pastry training to join Royal Caribbean in Miami, Florida,” Dinnall recalled. “When I went down to the docks they told me they had no space for cooks or pastry men at the time, leaving me thinking as to what would be my next move.”
He said it was during that moment of uncertainty that it was suggested by “somebody I knew” that “I had the option of taking on the vacant position of a pot washer, if I still intended on working for the cruise line”. After spending some quiet moments with his thoughts, Dinnall said he decided to take up the offer, convincing himself that having an “in” with the company could conceivably pave the way for “greater things”.
He also recalled that there were other Jamaicans who were facing a similar scenario and just simply packed their bags and took a hasty return flight back to Jamaica. “They simply threw in the towel,” he reminisced.
Call it a baptism of fire, call it a rude awakening, but Dinnall had no idea what was in store or how much he had to dig deep inside to understand that forced lesson known as perseverance.
“I thought I was going to peel carrots and potatoes but that wasn't the real deal. I am about six feet, one inch, and when I walked into that kitchen you couldn't see me; the pots were this high,” he said, gesticulating. “I can tell you this, however, without the blinking of an eye I never once thought about giving up.”
Dinnall added that he remained unperturbed, waiting for what he was convinced would be an opening where he could show “my true worth”.
It didn't take long for him to start showing glimpses of his potential, attracting the attention of his superiors and being empowered to take on additional responsibilities.
Within a four-year period, he moved through the ranks, garnering accolades and achieving the coveted position of a sous chef.
“I was not surprised as I knew that that day would come,” Dinnall said. “I then moved on from a sous chef to an executive sous chef, which pretty much puts me in charge of all culinary operations on board.”
For her part, Jackson said, while she was told that she would have to resort to a menial position if she wanted to join the ship, she never once considered the option of going back home.
“I have always been a go-getter, always believing in hard work and giving it your all,” she emphasised. “I was told basically that what I brought to the table didn't mean anything, and that I had to prove myself all over.”
Jackson said it was during that “feeling out” period that she made the transition from assistant waitress into restaurant supervisor and got to know Dinnall on an “up close and different level”.
“Guests from time to time used to request some delicious and popular Jamaican cuisine, like oxtail, which wasn't on the official menu,” she said.
“Roderick, as the executive chef, was very accommodating and helpful. I can also tell you that even today I have maintained relationships with guests based on those simple, but well-meaning gestures.”
The duo, based on their level of interactions and natural chemistry, got married in 2007 and today remain an integral part of the operations of Royal Caribbean.
Jackson has worked on a number of the cruise line's mega vessels, including the Oasis class ships [the most prestigious in the fleet] while Dinnall has seen his responsibility increased to being responsible for cost control and to determine if purchasing is in line with the needs of passengers.
“On any given day I am responsible for scores of guests, and to see to it that they are indeed getting value for their hard-earned money,” Jackson said. “Even though I work seven days per week and with hardly anything by way of a social life, I would never trade this experience for anything.”
Dinnall noted that the experience has also brought the couple a certain degree of financial success, as they own their own home and are mentors to a lot of youngsters “who are still finding their way”.
“Everything we earned came right back here in the Jamaican economy,” Jackson said. “While we worked overseas, our minds have always been on our homeland and what we could do to make our country proud. We have always seen ourselves as true Jamaican ambassadors, committed to the cause and at all times operating with a sense of purpose.”
And while the novel coronavirus pandemic has brought the cruise industry to a screeching halt, the couple is now back home where together they are promoting a cooking show from home on YouTube called Chef Champion Kitchen, on which Dinnall has his culinary skills on full display.
“I got my certification from the American Culinary Federation, so I have a lot to give back,” he said. “I am available for consultation and to teach our young and aspiring chefs all the necessary things needed to prepare themselves for potential jobs overseas.”
Asked if he has any regrets, Dinnall responded firmly, “None whatsoever. If I had to live my life all over again, I would go down the same pathway. I got to travel the world; I went to the Middle East, saw the real Gaza and got to touch Jesus's tomb.”