Restaurant Profile: Herons

Superb second-course option seared diver scallop with cured radish, white and red seaweed, and poached wheatberries
Superb second-course option seared diver scallop with cured radish, white and red seaweed, and poached wheatberries
The signature poached oyster dish at Herons is served on a floating glass plate.
The signature poached oyster dish at Herons is served on a floating glass plate.
Smoked Hamachi with kohlrabi, herb aioli, and crispy sweet potato noodle
Smoked Hamachi with kohlrabi, herb aioli, and crispy sweet potato noodle
Cured North Carolina bluefin tuna served alongside a potato croquette, Ossetra caviar, pickled onion, and a brown butter broth
Cured North Carolina bluefin tuna served alongside a potato croquette, Ossetra caviar, pickled onion, and a brown butter broth
An exquisite strawberry parfait dessert with coconut whipped ganache and coconut Koji ice cream with pineberries and mini strawberries
An exquisite strawberry parfait dessert with coconut whipped ganache and coconut Koji ice cream with pineberries and mini strawberries
A first-course offering features cucumber prepared three ways: tart with kimchi yogurt; gazpacho with basil seeds and yuzu; and salad comprising buttermilk, dill pickle, garlic, and dill pollen.
A first-course offering features cucumber prepared three ways: tart with kimchi yogurt; gazpacho with basil seeds and yuzu; and salad comprising buttermilk, dill pickle, garlic, and dill pollen.

A proper feature of Herons, the top-tier, AAA Five-Diamond restaurant situated inside Cary’s luxurious Umstead Hotel & Spa, simply must include the driving force in the kitchen. Indulge us for a bit here as we shine a well-deserved spotlight on Steven Devereaux Greene, the seasoned executive chef who has spent more than a decade helping to make lasting memories for the establishment’s guests.

“Just because Herons is a high-end restaurant doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy yourself,” Greene said during a recent sit-down conversation. “We like to create food in an atmosphere that is whimsical and fun and loosens you up so you can relax and have a good time.”

Chef Steven Devereaux Greene

If there’s a more approachable head chef than Greene, we’d sure like to meet him. Spend just five minutes with the guy, and you’ll be enriched by his refreshing humility and authenticity. A consummate Southern gentleman, his laid-back demeanor resembles actor Matthew McConaughey.

Greene has come a long way since his younger years when he was raised by a single mother in the small town of Ninety Six, South Carolina. He vividly recalls making $6.25 an hour at his first job, struggling to make ends meet and even getting evicted from a roach-infested apartment. But through years of perseverance and hard work, he ultimately honed his skills at a resort and inn in the Palmetto State, then opened a namesake restaurant called Devereaux’s.

After moving to North Carolina, Greene’s tenure at Herons began in 2009 as chef de cuisine. Under the tutelage of acclaimed chef Scott Crawford, he helped guide the restaurant to its first Forbes Five-Star rating. A brief stint as executive chef at Ăn New World Cuisine in Cary led to him returning to Herons in 2014 to helm the kitchen.

“I learned early on the importance of a strong worth ethic, and I don’t take anything for granted,” Greene says, adding that he also is blessed to have a loving wife and a charming young son.

Unpretentiousness aside, the chef’s culinary credentials cannot be ignored. He’s a four-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast award, and in addition to his executive chef role, he serves as director of food and beverage operations for the entire Umstead complex.

When it comes to the plaudits he’s received in recent years, Greene quickly redirects.

“It’s really not about me,” the chef says modestly. “My 4-foot-11-inch Southern belle grandmother used to tell me to stay humble and never forget where I came from. I always try to remember that.”

Greene also is quick to credit his capable team, especially his right-hand man, Chef de Cuisine Spencer Thompson, who has worked closely with him for more than 25 years.

“Spencer and I worked together in South Carolina, so he’s a loyal friend who has helped me so much along the way,” he says. “He sources the ingredients and works closely with the farmers. He’s so talented that he could be the chef at any fine-dining restaurant, so we’re extremely fortunate to have him here at Herons.”

Nowadays Greene and a cadre of talented team members provide upscale, multi-course dining in serene environs with impeccable service. Menus change with the seasons, but one thing remains constant: The cuisine consistently exceeds diners’ expectations.

“People don’t just come here for particular dishes,” Greene says. “They come here for an experience. They trust us to provide something special and memorable.”

Greene’s personal mantra entails creating memories.

One way he brings forth long-lasting recollections at Herons is The Art Tour, a multicourse tasting menu that showcases The Umstead’s nearby sustainable culinary farm and draws from art and nature themes found around the property.

“The menu is based on curated pieces of art seen throughout the hotel,” Greene says. “I gain inspiration from the art and transform that onto the plate. Whenever a dish is served, it’s accompanied by a small easel along with a print. The server then explains what inspired me to create each dish.”

Also popular among guests is a four-course dinner that features well-balanced dishes that are visually stunning and pleasing to the palate. Be advised: Some of the items mentioned and photographed in this article may have rotated off the menu by summertime, but no matter what you order, you won’t be disappointed.

Many of the food selections feature finishing touches like freshly harvested microgreens and blossoming herbs that come from One Oak Farm, Umstead’s nearby sustainable acreage with three full-time growers.

“Having the farm so close by also allows us to access fresh fruit like strawberries and plums and pawpaws to vegetables like beets, kohlrabi, and John Haulk corn, an heirloom variety we grind in-house to make our grits,” Greene shares.

Stellar first-course options include smoked hamachi with kohlrabi, herb aioli, and crispy sweet potato noodle and a signature poached oyster dish served on a floating glass plate.

“Our relationship with Ryan Bethea at Oysters Carolina on Harkers Island has been a game-changer for us,” Greene reveals. “He harvests oysters at 9:30 in the morning and then delivers them to us the same day three or four times a week.”

Second-course offerings include a 62-degree egg with grits, shrimp, mushroom, and Iberico ham and a seared diver scallop with cured radish, white and red seaweed, and poached wheatberries.

Poached halibut enrobed in spring truffle and seaweed gelee is served with onion soubise, white asparagus, baby turnip, and horseradish sauce.

Exquisite entrees range from bluefin tuna and truffle-enrobed halibut to pistachio-tinged duck, lamb with curry, and Japanese wagyu beef. Attention to detail is paramount, as each main course reveals the culinary team’s passion, precision, and creativity. And this probably goes without saying, but the stunning food photos you see throughout this profile far exceed what mere words can express here.

To further enhance the dining experience, you can complement your meal with the perfect match from Herons’ extensive wine library. The studious collection contains the classic varietals and appellations you would expect along with some nouveau eclectic gems that will delight the novice, enthusiast, and connoisseur alike. If you appreciate a little direction, consider the set pairings or just ask the adept staff for assistance.

“We have about 1,300 selections of wine and more than 5,000 bottles in our wine cellar,” said Hannah Barton, wine director and dinner manager at Herons. “We’re here to guide our guests to the perfect choice.”

Top off the evening meal with a next-level dessert. Consider the orange blossom honey panna cotta showcasing kataifi (shredded phyllo dough) that’s fashioned into a nest and then finished with frozen yogurt rocks made with liquid nitrogen. Prefer chocolate instead? Choose the bliss-inducing concoction with a 64% dark chocolate ganache base and a cocoa veil prepared with a cocoa nib stock. This item comprises multiple raspberry components, including a sorbet, purée, and fresh golden raspberries from One Oak Farm.

Herons also serves breakfast and lunch on weekdays plus a superb weekend brunch.

Service at the restaurant is refined but not stuffy. Knowledgeable, friendly waitstaff are keen to make recommendations and provide a superior dining experience for each guest.

“We are committed to treating each other well in the front and the back of the house,” Greene says. “I tell the staff every day we all need to handle ourselves as utmost professionals.”

A secluded private dining room provides seating for up to 12 people (reserve well in advance to guarantee availability). Complimentary valet parking is available, and reservations are strongly recommended.

theumstead.com/dining/herons

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