Macarena Rey, a stylish 44-year-old executive, beautiful, with lively brown eyes, is not exactly an expert cook. However, a couple of years ago, he came across one of the recipes for success. Of course, it was not invented. Fundamentally, he copied and interpreted the Spanish formula that a decade before had been tried and popularized by the English, and which has already consumed, in its corresponding versions, 200 million people in 46 countries. It is called MasterChef.

Basic ingredients: 200 people divided into two teams, 7 outdoor cameras and 9 on set that record all the time simultaneously, about 70 hours of tapes per program, 700 square meters of set (made with 300 square meters of wood and 40,000 nails) 7 kilometers of cable to maintain wireless communications from ear to ear, and more than 230 light projectors.

How to do it: through a two-day digitization process (with its nights), the record of all that joint work is reserved and is kept – locked, ventilated and at the appropriate temperature (21 degrees) – in a huge electronic memory called ISIS with a capacity of 40 teras, about 40,000 gigabytes. It rests there for at least a month, which is the approximate time necessary to have a program about to be broadcast. During those 30 days, and with the guidance of executive production, a team of editors is separating the grain from the chaff. Select the tastiest parts until you create what, in this particular culinary language, is called “el churro”. Then, with a meticulous assembly process, it is gradually reduced until a perfectly pasted mixture of two hours is achieved. The program will be ready when it seems that, despite the various handling of the dough, only one person has done it.

Contestants live encapsulated in a chalet without TV or Internet, but with cookbooks. They eat separately from the rest of the team and have 10 minutes a week to talk to their families.

Like any good recipe It is worth mentioning, that of Macarena Rey also keeps a hitherto indecipherable secret: its cost. However, there are others that can be discovered almost at a glance in your kitchen.

The MasterChef Spain cook sits in a plastic chair in the sun on one side of the large patio of the Tavera hospital (Toledo), turned into a filming set for a day. He elegantly lays the tray on his knees and eats in 15 minutes -with its corresponding telephone interruptions- a plate of braised artichokes and a rice salad that he has taken -like the rest of the more than 50 people from his outdoor team- of the huge metal trays of the catering service. Previously, dressed in a shirt and jeans and raised to the heel of some suede ankle boots, she has brought from her hand a string of 19 distinguished guests – known and renowned art commissioners and gallery owners – and has seated them at the table in a large hall , among tapestries and paintings by El Greco that decorate that Renaissance palace. Macarena, in charge of the producer behind this program (Shine Ibérica), does not neglect a single detail. In the same way that he has sold his recipe for success to Spanish public television, he has turned one of the sets of the Buñuel Studios – one of the largest in Europe – into his gigantic kitchen. And now it is added with a timely contest meal to the promotion and celebration of the fourth centenary of the death of the Greek painter who lived and died in the capital of La Mancha. Incidentally, he sets up his macro-kitchen in a 16th-century palace. Ready is awhile.

Silence. The seventh program of the 15 of the second season of this culinary talent show is recorded. After sweeping television grills last year with 33 million viewers, it will re-air on the first Spanish television channel starting on Wednesday of this week. To the stove, 9 of the 15 aspiring chefs who started this edition. Five have already been removed and one has a cut on his finger. Today they will have to cook game meat, a garlic soup, a fry – “a kind of ratatouille” – and an apple dessert. This is explained by the chef and jury of the Pepe Rodríguez program (from the El Bohio restaurant, with a Michelin star in Toledo), who finishes the dishes on the mobile kitchens set up in that palatial courtyard first thing in the morning.

Basic ingredients: 200 people, 7 cameras outdoors and 9 on set, 70 hours of recording per program, 700 square meters of set, 7 kilometers of cable and 230 projectors

“They must be perfect, these are the models that the kids are going to follow in the test”, warns the cook, who has earned the reputation of spontaneous Illescas (his people) for something: “I would not want to die in the kitchen; If I win the lottery, I set the restaurant on fire and go to an island full of beautiful aunts. But if I get into flour, I want to be the best ”, releases this man in hearty ways cultivated for years behind a bar. He, with swiftness and wit from the bar, has become the yeast that makes the show grow.

All the dishes are ready to be presented to the contestants. They will have a few minutes to watch them carefully and receive basic instructions before hearing that countdown: “… And time begins at four, three, two, one.” There are no recipes that are worth. It cooks almost by eye.

Finally, the MasterChef title contenders enter the set. They live encapsulated in a chalet in Madrid, without television or Internet and surrounded by cookbooks. They always eat separated by screens from the rest of the team. And they have 10 minutes of telephone (intervened) a week to talk to their families. “They can’t know anything, they don’t even know where they go every time they get on the bus, they are completely oblivious to what comes their way every time,” says José Luis Mata, a successful professional, or head of outdoor production. It is he who will make it possible for tests to be carried out this year on a Navy aircraft carrier, on an Airbus 330 or on the peak of a snowy mountain.

When cooking, on or off the set, nothing is interrupted or repeated. What comes out, comes out, in the time stipulated

Surprise is another of the main ingredients of this television formula, which, although recorded in advance, is filled with live moments. When you start cooking, on or off the set, nothing is interrupted or repeated. What comes out, comes out, in the time stipulated, for the fortune or misfortune of the guests invited. Of course, what is not recorded does not exist.

“It is more complex than other programs, you have to have everything planned in case anything goes wrong; all the cooking part is like a live show, but it doesn’t go from one camera to another as usual, instead there are nine simultaneously recording, nine valid ones ”, summarizes Alfredo Montalvillo, who has been working as a cinematographer for 28 of his 54 years. on Spanish Television.

And, like salt, the surprise seasoning can be added at different times during cooking. At first, for example, with a curious way of presenting the dishes that the contestants must make: “We can use mysterious boxes to hide the ingredients from them until the last second,” explains the art director, Ulia Loureiro. It can also be seasoned during the elaboration of the menu, through the suspicious questions that are improvised from the control, the center of the eyes that see everything (through the screens) and the ears that hear everything (through the microphones). They intervene to take advantage of what is happening at that moment in the kitchen: “Tell him why he is doing that like this” or “why he has not listened to Menganito.” And if you were still bland, you can always grab the salt shaker afterwards, with the fine-sometimes sharp-assessments made by the judges prior to the elimination tests.

MasterChef’s brains are feminine and they cook just or don’t know how to cook

The reactions -Equivocal, fights, screams, tears- of the contestants before these studied and measured doses of surprise are what will determine the success of each program. Macarena and the rest of his team know this very well, so they have deployed a group of editors who observe and write down what each of the participants does, says or feels. They are real sneaks: “Fulanito has been confused and has put salt instead of sugar”, “Menganita does not get along with Zutanito”, “Fulano’s cream has lumps”, “this one always has problems with household appliances” … They squeeze the emotions that filter while preparing the dishes and with that juice they create the sauce of the program.

This time, MasterChef returns with 15 curious applicants to hold the title; Among them, a disc-jockey full of tattoos, a funeral worker or a vegan girl. “Some cannot see the cold cuts and others see them every day,” jokes before sitting down in front of the screens of the control Ana Rivas, Macarena’s click, his right hand. The two make up the executive production of the program. And here comes another one of the secrets of the successful recipe. It is a space devised, adapted, directed, scripted and edited by women. Neither is an expert cook. In fact, more than one barely knows how to cook.

“I have not gone from grilled chicken fillet”, confesses Eva Sanz Melones, the director and the true voice that speaks

The four visible and increasingly famous faces of the program, repeat almost the dictation and move like automata to the sound of the words of “la Melons”

-Pananillo through-through the mouth of the chefs and judges Pepe Rodríguez (Madrid, 1968), Jordi Cruz (37 years old and owner of the Abac restaurant in Barcelona) and Samantha Vallejo-Nájera (Samantha of Spain Catering), and the presenter -and Miss Spain 2003-, Eva González. All of them, the four visible and increasingly famous faces of the program, repeat almost the dictation and move like automata to the sound of the words of “la Melons” -as they know her behind the cameras-, who works as second kitchen , a 42-year-old woman hardened in a thousand television battles (including the Beijing Express) and that no one would want to have as an enemy despite her generous smile.

Behind the cameras, the chefs (and judges), who thanks to this contest have already become accustomed to making advertisements, being the cover of magazines and going out every two by three even in the heart press, come off those almost hieratic poses that they show in the recordings. At 44, Samantha exhibits her craziest and most casual side: “They should have let me dress up as goyesca as I wanted, which is why I like a costume.” Jordi Cruz tries to hide his rogue side by presenting himself (several times) as “a chef who takes his work seriously and who is dedicated to spreading the cuisine of our country”, but the courteous does not detract from the brave. Pepe Rodríguez does not waste the least opportunity to provoke the staff: “In this edition I have set out to convert the vegan girl to the religion of total enjoyment.” And Eva González, the 33-year-old presenter from Seville, steps down from her heels and starts with a cante as soon as she sees the occasion.

But, summarizing and getting to the point of the back of these gigantic television stoves, the MasterChef brains are feminine and cook just or they don’t know how to cook. Along with Rey, Rivas and Sanz is Helena Morales, able to improvise and write a new script, in pen and with clear handwriting on a used sheet of paper, during lunch. And to plaster it and leave it nice and ready to serve is Cristina Aller, a 39-year-old editor who sees life in frames, that is, at 25 images per second: “If you blink, you miss it.” One does not escape him. She is the one who packages everything and puts it as a gift, ready to be swallowed by viewers.

This is a job that requires doing many things at once, and in this sense I have always trusted women, resolves Macarena Rey

“This is a job that requires doing many things at the same time, and in this sense I have always trusted women,” says Macarena, who is the same in control as serving diners or guest chefs, or giving her the OK End of a video in an editing room of the Buñuel Studios with another tray of barracks food next to it. In MasterChef kitchens you eat quite regularly, it must be said.

One last thing to keep in mind in this recipe. In order not to cut it, it is necessary to mix properly and shake just enough to the equipment that compose it. One comes from Shine Ibérica and the other belongs to Televisión Española. In one they are too used to guerilla wars and in the other they talk about lost triennia. Two work dynamics beating the eggs of the same mayonnaise. The balance and power of the huge mixer – 600 kilowatts are needed – are once again put by Macarena Rey, and so far it has not been cut.

“Everything is a matter of balance,” says the director of the set, Eduardo Escorial. “Ultimately, it’s about cooking and you have to calculate the times well so that there are no contestants who finish too soon and others who do not finish the dishes, previously tested and prepared by the culinary team.” He, who is fond of gastronomy, is the one who directs this timed choreography in the kitchen, who decides who enters and leaves and to do what, and who points out the final objective of the ingredients of this complex television potion: “We are putting in value a of the great riches of our country through amateur cooks full of passion. We have to be able to show his evolution so that people know that he can do the same at home ”.

Thus, in the midst of a cathodic-culinary fever in which substitutes such as Top chef, Leave room for dessert, My mother cooks better than yours, Cooked … is constantly coming back MasterChef to face a more difficult still!