King "stuck [her] foot in door" at Alon's before moving to the Occidental Grand Hotel (now the Four Seasons), opening Canoe (where she met Gerry Klaskala) and the now-defunct Hedgerose Heights before finally joining Klaskala again at Aria, where she's been blowing the doors off the dessert course for four years.
Creative Loafing: I know you do a legendary warm chocolate cheesecake, but you are a genius with fruit desserts. Explain the love affair.
King: I used to be afraid of it, I didn't know what to do with fruit. I could pick up chocolate, nougat, caramel or nuts and ideas would fly at me. But then I discovered sustainable fruit -- fresh fruit locally grown in-season. Last winter, I picked and ate tangerines right off the trees in Florida. They were incredible. I brought back a crate and made a panna cotta with tangerine sorbet. I'm trying to bring out the flavor of fruit, to give a fruit focus to a dessert, not just a scattering of blueberries on a plate.
Any fruit you haven't been able to successfully conquer?
Persimmons. They're either too hard or too ripe. I don't understand them; they sometimes rot before they ripen.
Why do so many restaurants try to get by without a pastry chef?
There are only so many managerial jobs in a restaurant and most chefs have to decide whether to hire a sous chef or a pastry chef -- you can only have two salaries in the kitchen. In my case, I'm both. Also, dessert is often an afterthought.
Is anything banned in your kitchen?
White chocolate. Yuck. It's too sweet and technically it's not chocolate. I have never liked it.
What dessert is totally played out?
Créme brûlee. It's the Chardonnay of desserts and people know what they are getting. Sometimes, though, you have to give people what they want.
Does a dessert's popularity skew by age? Gender?
I notice older couples order pound cake or cobbler more often, like they are ordering a memory. Twentysomethings often order something they have read about.
What's your favorite sweet to eat?
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. They are salty and sweet ... perfect.
What do you want your epitaph to say?
Klaskala pipes in: "How sweet it was."
Aria, 490 E. Paces Ferry Road. 404-233-7673. www.aria-atl.com.