It wasn’t the noise or the mess or the workmen tramping through the house that got to Colombe Jacobsen-Derstine when the New York City brownstone she’d just bought was being renovated last year. It was the month and a half without kitchen access.
For many people, takeout dinners and nights at friends’ houses would be a welcome departure. For Jacobsen-Derstine, 39, who has been a chef for much of the two decades since she starred as goalie Julie (the Cat) Gaffney in the Mighty Ducks franchise and as Becky Fraker in Rookie of the Year, it was more than that.
“Six weeks!” she says. “I was dying for a home-cooked meal. It was kind of funny, though, because suddenly everyone else is cooking for me.”
You might expect someone who grew up being fed by craft services to use her oven as extra closet space, but an appreciation of food and cooking has always been central to Jacobsen-Derstine’s life. Her mother was interested in the macrobiotic diet, which attempts to create balance in nutrition by focusing on whole grains and vegetables, and Jacobsen-Derstine cites discovering Minneapolis’s thriving Vietnamese cuisine as one of the highlights of her time shooting Ducks as a teenager. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence, she was more enthusiastic about her culinary projects than her auditions.
“I’d get going on a fun cooking project and get an audition that wasn’t really exciting to me and be like, Why am I gonna drop this?” she says.
So she enrolled in the Natural Gourmet School in New York City and began making home-delivered meals for customers. She worked with Slow Food New York City and became the chef at Sabra Mediterranean Foods, helping the company develop recipes and flying around the country to reward contest winners with meals cooked in their homes. She catered bespoke dinners and started her own blog, colombedujour.com.
As she was getting started, a friend suggested she marry cooking and acting by auditioning for The Next Food Network Star. (“I didn’t know what reality shows were,” she says with a laugh. “If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have submitted a tape!”) She won the first challenge before being eliminated midway through Season 3. The behind-the-scenes experience was jarring—“In a movie you’re there to make each other look good,” she says. “On a reality show you’re with a bunch of people whose success depends on your failure”—but the show taught her to be flexible with recipes.
These days Jacobsen-Derstine puts her theories about food into practice for her husband, Jeffrey Lefleur, and their five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. She teaches in elementary schools in Harlem, gardening with the children and educating them about a different ingredient each week, which the schools’ chefs then use in the kids’ lunches. She’s also in the process of launching a series of short Web videos. There’s not much hockey in her life at the moment, although after six weeks of private tutoring from Blackhawks right wing Grant Mulvey for Ducks, she can still skate well. She played the role of Hailey in 2002’s Men in Black II, and still does voice-overs for Oxygen Network.
Sometimes a month may pass before she gets recognized in public, and sometimes it’s 10 minutes—she theorizes the frequency is related to when Ducks is shown on television—but she gets a kick out of the reminders of her past life.
“Sometimes being an actor can feel like playing the lottery,” she says. “In cooking, you can put effort in and really see the results.”