Chef's Table - Sweet Potato Queen

Ebullient Sonya Jones, the founder of Sweet Auburn Bread Company, is Atlanta-born and bred, but her signature sweet potato cheesecake has fans across the country. After an absence, she will reopen her retail bakery on Auburn Avenue in early December.

What did your training at the Culinary Institute of America teach you?

My time up North really made me appreciate my Southern heritage.

What do you mean?

Well, we didn't have fancy names for items, but we utilized the same ingredients. Like polenta is just grits. Tarts are pies. I kept relating it back to everything I grew up with.

You opened your business downtown before it was popular.

I was at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market in 1997. I named the bakery for the district. It's almost personal, being in such a historic area. I want to be a positive force.

What did you make?

The sweet potato pie was the backbone of the old bakery. I did Southern classic comfort desserts: pecan pie, old-fashioned egg custard, apple pie, fresh peach tart, oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookies, corn bread, yeast rolls, buttermilk pound cake, lemon chess pie. I knew it was a hit when people would come up to the counter and tell me about their food memories.

In 1999, President Clinton famously paid homage to you.

My signature dessert is a sweet potato cheesecake. Instead of a graham cracker crust, I use buttermilk pound cake base. That's a Southern twist on classic gourmet dessert. It has a really rich, creamy, lasting flavor. It exceeded my expectations. Clinton came in as part of an inner-city business tour and I was considered a pioneer, a success. I wanted to serve him something unique. He loved it. He dubbed me the "sweet potato cheesecake lady."

Sweet Auburn Bread Company, 234 Auburn Ave. 404-222-9734.


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