Each year, HHN features a fresh slate of movies, shows and mythology in which guests fully immerse themselves. The creative team, led by John Murdy, brings those experiences to life in the form of dizzyingly terrifying haunted houses. But that’s not the only way those stories come to life. The food and beverage program at Halloween Horror Nights is actually an extension of those haunted houses. The themed menus are packed with deep-cut references that the biggest fans will appreciate, and the cleverly crafted cocktails bring monsters to life in the most delightful fashion. Because at HHN, you don’t just immerse yourself in your favorite horror stories. You eat them, too.
We spoke to Universal Studios Hollywood’s executive chef Julia Thrash and manager, shared services Erick Massmann — who spearhead the theme park’s food and beverages programs, respectively — about how they put together HHN menus.
“This is the cool part of the job!” says Julia Trash, vice president culinary and executive chef at Universal Studios Hollywood. “Creating and theming menus to different IPs — that’s the best part.”
But just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s easy. Crafting the HHN menus is nearly a year-long process. Once the food and beverage team learns what houses are coming to the next HHN, they immerse themselves in the content. And, yes: that means they actually binge-watch the shows and movies. And in the process, Chef Julia and her three-person team of research development chefs keep an eye out for little details they can make delicious. According to Chef Julia, putting themselves in the shoes of the fans is crucial to writing recipes for HHN.
“It could be one thing that makes zero sense to anybody else,” says Chef Julia, “and we’re like: The diehard fans are gonna be able to tie back to this.” And that’s how they know they’ve got something good on their hands. With that mindset, building the “Stranger Things” menu around Surfer Boy Pizza, which features prominently in the show, was a no-brainer. The above photo features (from left to right): Try Before You Deny pizza; the Hellfire Club Pretzel; Demogorgon Pizza; Pineapple Buffalo Wings and Pizza Fries. They can be found at the Stellar Bar and at Surfer Boy Pizza, both of which are on the Lower Lot.
Chef Julia’s favorite world to work in this year? “Chucky.” Which is surprising, because she’s a little squeamish when it comes to horror. “But then as we started thinking, I was like — ’He can have his own barbecue!’ And it turned into this very fun adventure.”
The resulting “Chucky” menu is (appropriately) meat-heavy, including the Friends to the Burnt Ends pulled pork sandwich, the Chucky’s a Clucking Nightmare fried chicken sandwich, the Chucky’s Mac-assacre & Cheese, the Always Comeback Corndog, and the Like To Be Hugged salad.
You can dig into these eats at Chucky’s Killer BBQ on the Upper Lot.
But designing the HHN dishes isn’t just about referencing the source material. It’s also about capturing the style and aesthetic of the story at hand. “We are very much known for our cupcakes,” Chef Julia explains. So we wanted to venture into what cooler things we could do with those.” Since “Stranger Things” takes place in the 1980s, Chef Julia wanted to keep the menu true to that era. “So we thought: ‘Why don’t we do a push-pop?’” The result: the Hellfire Pop, a chocolate cake pop topped with icing flames as an homage to the Hellfire Club from the show. This HHN take on the ‘80s dessert is served in the Stellar Bar on the Lower Lot.
Erick Massman, manager of shared services at Universal Studios Hollywood, summarizes the HHN cocktail strategy as such: “We want drinks that taste good, look better, and bring people out.” Dare we say: mission accomplished.
Let’s start with the garnishes, because they’re impossible to miss. Every cocktail at HHN has a show-stopping, candy-based garnish. “We want something that really ties the drink together, and gives it that ‘Wow’ factor,” says Erick. For example: the Upside Down cocktail, named for the alternate dimension in “Stranger Things,” features a candy hibiscus flower that, when opened, looks like the Demogorgon’s head.
The Mind Flayer, named for a monster occupying said alternate dimension, is topped with pull-apart red licorice to represent the creature itself. Plus, it’s served on dry ice for a smoky-looking effect. These drinks are as delicious as they are Instagrammable. You can find the “Stranger Things” drinks at the Stellar Bar on the Lower Lot.
But it’s not just showiness for the sake of itself. Each decision made helps tell the story at hand, literally or thematically. Take the Wanna Play?, a “Chucky”–themed cocktail made with tequila, aperol, sparkling lemonade, and lemon and cranberry juice, topped with cotton candy.
“When you look at Chucky, he looks fun and playful — but he’s not what you think,” says Erick, explaining the inspiration for this cocktail. “And so this looks like a fun drink. But then you have the gummy eyeball — when you bite into it, it has a strawberry filling, and it looks like it’s bleeding. Super gross. Super cool.” You can find “Chucky”-themed beverages at the Chucky’s Killer BBQ on the Upper Lot.
The four cocktails available at the Día de los Muertos Bar on the Upper Lot are all based on the mythical horror figures of the house, “Monstruos: Monsters of Latin America”.
The Tlahuelpuchi Margarita is named for the vampiric witch of Mexican lore. The color of the tequila-based drink mimics the monster’s pinkish-purple skin, and the black salt rim represents her hair. “And if you look at her face, there are all these yellow boils on it,” says Erick. But don’t worry! This drink tastes much better than the witch’s skin looks. “So we put in the lemon candies for the boils. But they also compliment the hibiscus flavor of the drink.”
In the “Monstruos” house, La Lechuza (named for the owl-witch of Mexican folklore) is all white and covered in blood. So her cocktail is a rum-based coconut cocktail topped with a powdered donut, with strawberry sauce dripping down to look like blood. The story of El Silbón from Colombian mythology involves a young man whose wounds are cleansed with chili peppers — hence, the chili-topped, vodka-based El Silbón Mule. And finally La Muerte: a gin, blueberry and cinnamon cocktail with a gray coloring, topped with a skull gummy. Perfection.
We didn’t cover every item available at this year’s HHN here — we just wanted to give you a taste. (Pun extremely intended.) You’ll just have to go to Halloween Horror Nights ASAP to chow down on all the ingenious offerings.
Must be 21 years and older with valid photo identification to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. Drink responsibly.
What’s your favorite menu item at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights? Let us know in the comments.