Naomi Gallego is "always thinking about desserts."

No, she's not a hopeless glutton. Gallego, 29, is the pastry chef at Vidalia, an upscale Southern restaurant in the District's West End.

And how does one get such a, well, sweet gig? For Gallego, it took a combination of formal schooling and on-the-job experience. She began working in kitchens when she was 16, and she earned an associate's degree in culinary arts from St. Philip's College in San Antonio. After working her way up to assistant pastry chef at San Antonio's La Mansion del Rio hotel, she struck out for Germany, putting in two years at a "beautiful pastry shop" in Saarbruecken. She also studied formally in Cologne for a year for her "meister" in pastry.

The delight that people take in a wonderful dessert is her favorite part of the job.

The worst part? The long hours. Gallego's typical day starts at 10 a.m. and doesn't wrap up until the last satisfied diner heads out the door at night, as late as midnight on weekends.

If you want to parlay your own sweet tooth into a career, Gallego recommends you head to school. "It's not going to land you a job," she said, "but it does provide a good base."

Once you're ready to work, expect a tryout, no matter what your credentials. To get the job at Vidalia, Gallego first faxed the chef a proposed menu, then came in one day and prepared four desserts in about five hours.

"If you don't love to make pastries, you're not going to be able to put up with the hours," she said.

Speaking of loving pastries, what does a master pastry chef prefer to nibble on? A simple coconut cream cake.

-- Mary Ellen Slayter

Naomi Gallego shows off some of her creations.