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Why I'm Looking for America's Best Unheralded Chefs

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I grew up in Maine, so I consider myself something of an expert on seafood. A few weeks ago I discovered a place where they cook up some of the best shrimp and king crab legs I've ever had -- it's a little joint in a strip mall called "Hot N Juicy Crawfish"... in the desert outside of Vegas!

The experience got us here at Nightline talking about how some of the best undiscovered chefs in the country are out there somewhere, toiling in obscurity. Now, we want your help finding them.

Even the most famous celebrity chefs -- Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, Paula Deen -- began somewhere. We've gotten to hear their stories on Nightline's "Platelist" series, where they've shared their recipes and told the stories of how they got their starts. And so this summer, we've launched a contest in which you, our audience, are invited to help us find the best unknown chefs in America.

We're calling it "The People's Platelist.''

If your favorite unknown chefs are as good as you tell us they are, we'll come to your town to interview them. And we'll also showcase nine runners-up.

We want--and need-- your help to do this.

If you have a beloved local chef or someone who deserves to be spotlighted, please nominate him or her for the People's Platelist.

Then, rally your friends to vote for your favorite later in the summer.

Back to my trip to Hot N Juicy Crawfish. It was a wonderful accident.

It was supposed to be a girls' weekend in Paris with some of my fanciest friends -- but the volcano in Iceland forced us to re-route. Someone suggested we spend a weekend in Vegas instead.

Things started to look like they were going to be fun when we got picked up in a Rolls Royce sent out to the airport by the hotel, and one of the Vegas regulars in our group said, "We're going to go to the best place for lunch!"

We drive down the strip, past all the famous shiny restaurants there. And I'm thinking, "This is going to be good." And then the driver just keeps going. On the outskirts of Vegas I say, under my breath, "He must be lost, he's taken a wrong turn."

"He's not lost," says the woman seated next to me.

Finally we pull into the Spring Mountain Plaza Shopping Center. I'm thinking "No way, no." Then, soon after we are seated, the waiters start bringing out plates of king crab legs, spicy shrimp in plastic bags and piles of rice.

Now, when I find myself at some catered press event or movie screening, with the waiters walking around with delicate lump crab appetizers and poached lobster bruschetta... I find myself daydreaming. What I want is one of those steaming plates of crawfish with the Hot N Juicy special sauce that I had that afternoon at the Spring Mountain Plaza strip mall.

You need to read the rules HERE if you want to enter. But basically, here's how it works: Think of your favorite local chef. Build a list of reasons why. Then go HERE and fill out an online nomination form.

We're accepting nominations through the July 23.

We already have hundreds of nominations, but please keep sending your favorites. We're hoping to hear about chefs from every state in the nation. We will go through the nominations and choose 10 finalists.

We'll judge them based on geographic diversity and the authenticity or originality of their cooking. When you make your nomination, please include whatever you can tell us about your favorite chef's philosophy, character, and interesting back story.

We'll contact the people who nominated the 10 finalists and ask you to make a very short video introducing the audience to your favorite unknown chef. And we'll air the videos on Nightline, post them online... and let the voting begin.

We will announce the winner in September -- and my crew and I will come to meet you and your chef, and film a Nightline Platelist for air on our broadcast.

So, calling all food lovers, stand up and be heard! Send in your nomination now for Nightline's People's Platelist.

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