Chef Steven Devereaux Green artfully plates a dish at Herons
Located in The Umstead Hotel and Spa, in Cary, North Carolina, Herons is somewhat enigmatic. It’s an art-filled, destination dining restaurant where, aside from its supremely elegant host hotel, there is no true destination. With the small downtown of Cary 10 minutes south and Raleigh 15 minutes northeast, the hotel property and its restaurant have become the terminus in this region dubbed the Triangle. On any given night, Herons hosts a diverse crowd, including techie business travelers visiting the SAS software campus where The Umstead is situated, local gourmands who’ve discovered Chef Steven Deveraux Greene’s exquisite creativity, and R&R guests who’ve simply stumbled upon this Southern Eden that Greene has contentedly cultivated over the past nine years, guiding the restaurant to a Forbes Five-Star rating—one of only 64 restaurants in the world to achieve such status.
Herons entrance, at Cary, North Carolina’s Umstead Hotel & Spa. Photo by Fran Miller
A true Southern gentleman, the South Carolina born and raised Greene is loyal, to his brothers with whom he has joined culinary forces in the past, to his extended family, and to his wife, an army brat who moved constantly during her youth. The couple agreed that their young son would be raised in a stable environment, hence Greene’s devotion to both Herons and to coaching youth football in their North Carolina neighborhood. Greene is also loyal to his Herons team, many of whom have worked with him for 5, 10, and even 23 years, as is the case with his chef de cuisine Spencer Thomson. Greene annually meets with each and every member of his staff (more than 120) to make a plan for their future careers, the inspiration of which was his own culinary mentor who early on inspired his success. “My life would be vastly different today if not for that early career mentor,” says Greene, “I aim to provide that same motivation to all of my team.”
Chef Steven Devereaux Greene’s background includes work in some of the country’s most celebrated kitchens
Greene’s background includes work in some of the country’s most celebrated kitchens. After serving as chef de cuisine at the handsomely awarded Dining Room at Woodlands Resort and Inn in Summerville, South Carolina, Greene was inspired to open his namesake restaurant, Devereaux’s, which quickly became a mainstay in Greenville, South Carolina. When Devereaux’s was folded into the Table 301 Restaurant Group, this presented Greene with the opportunity to consult at The Umstead in 2009. In 2012 he served as executive chef of Cary’s AN New World Cuisine, a restaurant that shares ownership with The Umstead. Under his direction AN received five stars from The News & Observer and was named among “the Triangle’s creme de la creme.” Greene returned to manage Herons and The Umstead’s culinary operations in 2014, and it has since become his permanent home.
The Herons dining room features artworks by international and local artists
It’s easy to see why. The Umstead property sits within 12 wooded acres and features its own lake and verdant gardens, a sumptuous spa, and art. Lots of art. The hotel’s art collector owners, The Goodnight family, have filled walls and nooks with works by important international and local artists whose paintings and pottery provide culinary inspiration to Greene, whose progressive regional menu items themselves are works of art. His signature oyster dish, for instance, is an immersive, sensory experience. As the server details the exact date and location of harvest, liquid is poured within the serving dish vitrine, creating a volcanic flow of steam that surrounds the lemon-champagne sabayon-topped poached mollusks. It’s these creative twists that herald Greene’s culinary style—one that is steeped in Southern tradition, yet includes fresh ingredients, unique combinations, and striking presentations. Oysters? So Southern. Lemon-champagne sabayon and a steam volcano? Not so much.
Chef Greene’s oysters are topped with a lemon-champagne sabayon cream
Herons’ seasonally inspired menu, from which diners are invited to select four courses, lists each item in extremely sparing detail: “roots,” “salmon,” “scallop,” “beef.” The modesty is charmingly amusing. In Greene’s deft hands, those roots (harvested from the restaurant’s 2.5 acre organic culinary garden) entail farm beet “cannoli,” a roasted farm carrot skewer, and a delicate pomegranate tart. The scallop is succulent, topped with caviar and bathed in an onion consommé with brown butter dashi. The flavors are as sensationally delicious as the presentations are artfully beautiful.
Chef Greene’s scallop dish is topped with caviar
Added to the delectable draw of Greene’s menu is the restaurant’s sublime setting and general appeal. Greene’s attention to detail is evidenced well beyond the plate, to such aesthetics as staff aprons. He partnered with Raleigh artisan-designer Victor Lytvinenko of Raleigh Denim Workshop to create custom aprons for staff. In the dining room, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the wooded acreage, bespoke dining table chargers made by local artisans glisten under soft illumination, the full-view yet soundproof kitchen allows for a peek at the culinary action, and a dulcet soundtrack of instrumental jazz creates a soothing environment in which to fully enjoy what is utterly distinctive to the region. “The Umstead is so unique that it has allowed me to express and push my culinary creativity,” says Greene. “We’re surrounded by such beauty that finding inspiration almost feels effortless.”
Photos courtesy of The Umstead Hotel & Spa, except where noted