Nine on the Line: Chef Tyler Fenton of Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink

Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink quickly became the downtown hot spot for simple, refined Italian cuisine when it opened in 2012.

It should come as no surprise that Chef Tyler Fenton began his culinary profession as a line cook at Vivace. Fenton also grew up in an Italian family and has been making pasta since he was a wee little lad.

When visiting Reilly, don’t miss out on the Brussels sprouts or cavatelli.

Chef Tyler Fenton at Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Chef Tyler Fenton at Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink (Credit: Jackie Tran)

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

I’d have to say cacio e pepe. The first time I had it my mind was blown. It’s a dish made with literally five ingredients — pasta, salt, pepper, pecorino, and extra-virgin olive oil or butter. It sounds so simple, but the complexity and purity of flavor is just awesome. It showed me the importance of proper seasoning and technique, without those two things the dish is a total failure. I think it’s one of the most satisfying dishes to eat.

2) What are you eating these days?

We recently got a pasta extruder at the restaurant so we’ve been having a lot of fun trying out new pastas. Outside of work, I’ve been on a serious taco bender. Tucson is a great city to eat tacos.

3) What was the first dish you remember cooking?

For Christmas Eve, my mother’s side of the family has a tradition of making seafood soup. Two rotating family members would each make a soup in a friendly head to head battle. When I was maybe eight years old I volunteered to make the soup. I looked up a recipe from Emeril Lagasse (BAM) for bouillabaisse. I remember struggling to do all of the shopping, I had no idea what a leek was at the time, and then prepping the soup was quite a learning experience. I have made seafood soup every Christmas eve since.

4) What concept, ingredient, or food trend are you experimenting with these days?

Last year I got to spend a few days in the kitchen at Emmer & Rye in Austin. They are milling all of their grains in house, and doing a bunch of fermentation. We have been experimenting with both, mostly just as research and development, not necessarily for Reilly. I’ve also been doing a whole lot of wood fire cooking at home.

Goat Cheese Agnolotti at Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Goat Cheese Agnolotti at Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink (Credit: Jackie Tran)

5) Who would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?

I would love to cook with Daniel Humm, chef/owner of Eleven Madison Park. His discipline, organization, and technical precision would be really exciting to learn from.

I would love to eat with David Chang. I think we are at a similar level of glutton for punishment. I would love to feast on whatever he would choose and then get to pick his brain.

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

I love to travel and eat as much as possible. I went to Tokyo and the food was insanely good. It is also hard to beat New York. But a little closer to home I would say Austin. The variety of cuisine and restaurant styles is really awesome. The food trucks are putting out truly killer stuff. The brisket at Franklin Barbecue was life changing. It’s just salt & pepper, but that shows you how important technique is. The best ramen I’ve ever had in this country was in Austin and Emmer & Rye was one of the best meals of the year for me.

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

I know it’s bad, but I really love junk food. Goldfish (has to be the big carton), candy, and an eegee (lime, preferably).

8) Which three Tucson restaurants do you frequent the most, aside from your own?

I’m really proud of the Tucson food scene. We have some killer restaurants at all different levels. Vivace is my favorite restaurant in town, it’s where I started cooking professionally and Daniel Scordato is a great friend. But living downtown, I don’t make it out of this area all that often. So most frequently visited would be:

  • Little Café Poca Cosa (now known as The Little One). My favorite lunch ever.
  • OBON. I will happily eat anything Paulo wants to make.
  • El Minuto. My dad and I go once a week. Tortilla soup and a cheese crisp and I’m happy.

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

If I knew the end was in sight, I’d forgo balance and just go for super heavy. There would have to be cocktails and wine. For food I’d start with some classic beef tartare with truffles. There would need to be Barrio bread with a bunch of butter and Jacobsen sea salt. Then a rib eye cooked over wood fire with some Robuchon potatoes. Finish with some coffee, ice cream, and an amaro then say my goodbyes.

Jackie is a food writer and photographer native to Tucson. He loves corgis and still thinks rickrolling is funny. If you'd like to stalk him, visit and his Instagram @jackie_tran_.