A picture tells the story, then helps win the prize.

For Trish DeGooyer, grand prize winner in the annual University of Utah Newborn Intensive Care Unit cook-off, a photograph was the key to success.In her first year of competition in the 7-year-old event, DeGooyer investigated many possible entries.

"I spent hours poring over magazines and cookbooks, not looking at the recipe, but looking at the pictures. I finally bought a new cookbook, "McCall's Best Recipe for 1990," because it had the best pictures," the contestant said.

Not a routine method for entering a cooking contest. Most entrants test a recipe, adjust seasonings or cooking times, retest and retest.

A critical care nurse doesn't have time for such a cycle.

"I didn't even try the recipes before I made them for the contest," DeGooyer confessed. "but I thought they looked like winners."

The nurse was correct.

DeGooyer shared grand prize honors with Mark Fitches, then took two second-place awards. She won three prizes with four entries, and each winner was selected from the new picture cookbook.

Debbie DeCarlo, top prize winner in the dessert category, followed a similar strategy, though she's entered the contest every year.

"I've almost never made any of the recipes I submit. They look good in the picture and I try them," DeCarlo explained. "But I did learn one thing this year. Both of my entries were mousses and by the time the judges got around to sampling, they were melting down all over the plate. I was lucky to win, because presentation is an important part of the contest."

Presentation was the part that worried contestant Sandy Harder.

"When I first entered, I didn't even know what the judging criteria were, but I quickly discovered how important appearance was. Placing an emphasis on presentation really helps your chances. Everyone's food is so beautiful."

Harder completed eight entries for this year's competition, but quickly acknowledged the excess.

"I did way too many this year. I got carried away. Next year I'll put more effort into two or three items."

As a result of her self-proclaimed overly industrious effort, Harder collected three prizes.

Collecting the prizes is part of the fun, but better than honors, the hospital staff senses a growing spirit of camaraderie in the contest.

According to Laurie Moyer-Mileur of the contest staff, "The competition is really a morale booster for the nursing crew."

And for Gary Chan, staff physician, "This year, more than any other, the enthusiasm was evident. Maybe it was the focus on a holiday theme, but the competition really helped people get together."

The picture doesn't tell the entire story.

Somehow, individual dramas that unfold in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit consume the lives of professional caretakers.

A friendly exchange of recipes provides a diversion from the pressures of hospital life.

This year's holiday edition cookbook, a collection of more than 100 recipes, is available at 581-7052 or 50 North Medical Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84132, at $7, including shipping. Proceeds from the book support inservice training for the nursing staff.

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Recipes listed:

Pine nuts and orange wild rice

European hot chocolate

Pears Elena

Chateaubriand with artichokes Bernaise

Three-chocolate mousse