Universal Orlando chefs use HHN food to push the flavor boundaries

Peanut Blooder Burger at Halloween Horror Nights, photo provided by Universal Orlando
Peanut Blooder Burger at Halloween Horror Nights, photo provided by Universal Orlando /

While guests eagerly await that first step into the fog, the annual Halloween Horror Nights event is more than just a series of frights eliciting that scream in the dark. As Universal Orlando chefs create innovative menu items, the HHN food pushes flavor boundaries. Without causing them to run from the table, these food items have become as big a talking point as the twists and turns in the haunted houses.

After the gates opened and guests flooded the scarezones, some of the most talked about moments were not the path chosen at the end of the Dueling Dragons haunted house. The new menu items had people sharing photos, and, more importantly, lining up for another serving.

The HHN food menu is quite robust. Savory, sweets, and snacks are available at every corner. Strategically placed within a theme, the food sets the tone, creates an expectation, and might get a few people to step out of their comfort zone. Just like walking through a haunted house might feel a little trepidatious, people want step into that experience. Trying a new food at an event like HHN is an extension of that feeling. It might have a touch of uncertainty, but it cannot be passed over.

Recently, FoodSided spoke with Chef Christopher Colon, Executive Sous Chef, Research and Development, Universal Orlando Resort regarding some of the 2023 Halloween Horror Nights food menu choices. From new choices to returning favorites, the culinary team must carefully balance the plethora of options.

With Dr. Oddfellow being the HHN32 icon, that twisted mind has influenced more than just the scarezones and haunted houses. Food becomes an extension of that theme.

As Chef Colon shared, “All theme parks are moving towards having great food always available to their guests. We are constantly pushing the boundaries of what guests expect. HHN gives us a fun opportunity to really push the boundaries with food and flavors because it is a twisted kind of event. This year was fun with Dr. Oddfellow; his twisted circus mind allowed us to give our guests a crazy version of carnival-style food.”

Even though the Universal Orlando culinary team wants to push themselves, there is a delicate balance. People who attend year after year crave those favorite dishes. Still, the chefs never want those dishes to feel stale. Signature dishes, like pizza fries or twisted taters, will always be part of the conversation, but they might have a slight modification.

Chef Colon commented, “These items are signatures of our special events! There isn’t a Halloween Horror Nights without Twisted Taters. We try to add a new element each year, like last year’s Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Tater and this year’s Infected Tater inspired after The Last of Us. We want our guests to keep guessing what’s next.”

Keeping the guest engaged is vital for Universal Orlando. From the guest who visits once a year to the Annual Passholder who is welcomed home once a week, flavoring the experience with a touch of the unexpected is key to keeping them coming back time and again.

Food has and continues to be an important factor. Across the menus, the choices are inclusive. Universal’s culinary team embraced flavorful vegan and vegetarian options long before the trend.

By focusing on flavor, those dishes have a broad appeal. As Chef Colon said, “the goal is always to make great food no matter what the cuisine falls into. We have the luxury of working with great ingredients daily which allows us to make great vegan food. We want to make sure that all our guests feel like there is something for everyone in their party.”

Since everyone is part of the food conversation, those dishes become more than just a break to sit at the table. People want to be immersed into the whole experience. Whether it is snapping a photo or having people ask where did you get that dish as they walk around, the communal food experience adds to the ambiance of the event.

HHN food Vegan Walking Tacos
Vegan Walking Taco at Halloween Horror Nights, photo provided by Universal Orlando /

Chef Colon appreciates that the menu choices need to work within the event’s confines. “Halloween Horror Nights is a walking event in our eyes. When we create food, we try to imagine ourselves as the guests. What would we want if we were walking through an event such as Halloween Horror Nights? At the same time, we’re trying to capture the shock value to entice the guest to snap a picture for social media before they take that first bite.”

That sharable moment is a major part of the overall Halloween Horror Nights experience. It is one of the reasons why the visual is important to the menu choices. Desserts have been one of the areas that lend themselves to that creative crossover. At the same time, these options are not bland and boring. A great visual without a satisfying bite will not get a positive comment on that social feed.

Chef Colon shared, “Desserts are something that we love to have fun with. While creating, we try to make sure we do new and trendy flavors while still paying homage to the classics. We try to give guests flavors that they would expect but in a new and creative way. HHN is great because we really get to sink our teeth into our IP’s and make some of these great moments from movies and games come to life.”

At this year’s Halloween Horror Nights, take break from haunted houses and scarezones with a flavorful, memorable bite of food. Savory, sweet, and everything in between is waiting to be devoured. Even if Dr. Oddfellow has nefarious plans, no one can resist the creations from Universal Orlando chefs.

Halloween Horror Nights 32 runs now through November 4 on select nights. Check with the theme park’s website for pricing and availability. HHN food menus are available online with pricing. Although some desserts are available in the Tribute Store during regular theme park hours, the main menu items are only available at HHN.

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