i think that it is pretty, for lack of a better word, "western-centric" to say that mexican, greek etc food can't be upscale. what does that mean, exactly? that those cuisines can't produce dishes with elegant, refined flavors and innovative presentations? or that they cannot be served in expensive white linen napkin restaurants? i mean, are we talking about food or our perceptions of the countries? personally, i think its ignorant to say, as Erik did, that Mexican food is street food only. and damn disrespectful to the range and variety of culinary traditions of the country.
As for classic versus influenced cuisine - i mean, when French chefs deconstruct French country cooking and serve it in expensive little portions no one is going "Well, that's not quite French. To me, that's more French-influenced."
If you would like an idea of what "upscale" Mexican cuisine looks like, I recommend going to Chef Bayless's website. Go to his Topolobampo Restaurant and click on the menus.
One example of what I would call upscale Mexican cuisine is this dish from the Spring Dinner Menu:
"Langosta en Crema al Almendra: pan-roasted Maine lobster in velvety almond-thickened guero chile cream. Red quinoa and garlicky braised mustard greens. 38.00" I'd say that is a pretty good example of an "upscale" dish.
But you are, in a way, sort of making my point. To me this would be a Mexican Influenced dish, not classic Mexican cuisine.
You might be right. I'm certainly not the expert on Mexican cuisine and I was merely looking at the issue from what I found on Chef Bayless's website and the posted menu for Topolobampo. It would be interesting to hear how the Chef would answer the question. This is certainly an interesting topic and one that would be appropriate as a new topic in another forum.
But in terms of Top Chef, either way you look at the issue of whether or not there is an upscale or classical Mexican cuisine, most of the Top Chef contestants still didn't follow the directions for the Quickfire Challenge.