Nine On The Line: Tanner Fleming of Dante’s Fire

Chef Tanner Fleming had the “dante-ing” task of recently taking over the other worldly reigns at Dante’s Fire. Fleming has done so with a fiery passion. Read on for a more in-depth look into food from Chef Fleming.

What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?

I was working as a dishwasher at Anthony’s In The Catalinas. By this point I had decided to pursue a career in food but since I was still in high school at the time, I hadn’t yet received any formal training. One night, the chef prepared a plate of veal sweetbreads for a special customer. Naturally, I was intrigued by the strange looking dish I’d never seen before so he made me a small plate to taste. The dish confused me texturally but was unbelievably delicious. As I was finishing the last few bites the chef started to laugh as he told me what exactly I just ate. I think he was expecting disgust when I realized I had just eaten the thymus gland of a young cow, but he was surprised when I merely shrugged my shoulders and asked for more. I find myself thinking back to this experience when I am faced with a particularly “unpleasant” or unconventional ingredient, and remember how something that may sound completely unappetizing at first can be incredibly delicious if prepared correctly. It also gave rise to my belief that no one truly dislikes any food, they simply haven’t had the food prepared in a way that suits their taste.

What are you eating these days?

Since I only recently took over as the chef of Dante’s Fire I find myself testing new or improved menu ideas quite regularly. Eating my creations is the only real way to decide if they will make the cut on my next menu. I am constantly trying new techniques and combinations of flavors on and off the clock but if I am in the mood to get out of the kitchen and eat out, I usually go for sushi.

What was the first dish you remember cooking?

I vividly remember sitting on the kitchen counter at a young age and helping my grandma hand roll and cut dough into noodles for her beef soup. It was a dish she made quite often while I was growing up. Even though she is no longer with us, my family still uses her recipe.

What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can’t stomach?

The non-red meat burger. I see these abominations popping up on menus occasionally and I have yet to eat one that I enjoy. I’m all for gourmet burgers, (Kobe beef and buffalo make a great one) but in my opinion, meats like turkey and salmon don’t make a good burger.

What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?

I have followed Grant Achatz’s career closely since I first heard about what he was doing at Alinea back in 2010. Eventually, I plan to apply for a stage at Alinea so I can work with him for a couple weeks. His understanding of food goes beyond taste and technique and it has been a dream of mine for a long time to talk with him about his journey as a chef and restaurant owner as to better understand how he sees food and creates his revolutionary dishes.

What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?

When I was in high school I competed in a national culinary competition sponsored by Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). It was a three day competition held in Chicago. I was only required to attend one event a day (excluding my competition spot), so as a young culinary student, I spent most of my free time eating. I couldn’t afford to eat at any of the higher end restaurants but I sought out as many local places as I could and enjoyed every minute of it. Chicago’s climate and proximity to water makes local produce and seafood vastly more available. Every local restaurant I went to blew me away with the freshness and flavors of their ingredients. Growing up in Tucson, I was not used to this caliber of “farm to table” cooking.

Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Kettle Brand Sriracha potato chips. They aren’t always available but they are delicious.

Top three Tucson restaurants?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. Personally I qualify a top restaurant by not only having “good food” but more importantly a consistency of high quality food, service, and atmosphere. I have several places around town where I regularly eat because I always enjoy my time there. In no particular order: Prep and Pastry is a favorite if I want a late brunch on my day off. They make up for the wait with delicious food and drink and I also like how passionate and involved the owners are. Yoshimatsu is my go-to spot for sushi. I eat there on a weekly basis and regularly request the sushi chef, create something off menu. I have never been disappointed. If I’m looking to spend a little more money I might eat at Proper. I’ve sampled their menu several times and I absolutely love what they do with local ingredients.

With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?

Without any doubt, it would be the full tasting menu at Alinea in Chicago. As I said before I’ve followed Achatz’s career very closely but haven’t been fortunate enough to eat at his restaurants yet.

C.J. Hamm is a native Tucsonan and has been covering the local culinary and cocktail scene since 2012.

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