Dear Todd English: It’s Not Us. It’s You.

The house is in shambles. The kids* are in rehab. The rent sure ain’t paying itself. After more than two decades, it’s time to end this one-way relationship. Here, then, is a five-part breakup letter with our abusive lover, Todd English.

Illustration by Hanoch Piven

Illustration by Hanoch Piven

Dear Todd:

Look, there’s no easy way to say this, so we’ll just cut to the chase: We’ve been doing some serious thinking lately. About us.

Yes, we get how majorly gross it is to do this by letter. But it’s been months since we’ve been in the same ZIP code together, much less talked. Really talked. Not so much about the kids or the credit score, or even the ridiculous restaurant you opened in Hollywood with that trashy desperate housewife. But about this relationship and where it’s headed.

Basically, things aren’t working out the way we’d hoped. You’re simply not the chef we fell in love with back in 1984; in fact, we sometimes wonder whether you even like cooking anymore. After weighing the pros and cons, we’ve made a decision. We think it’s time we both went our separate ways. Started seeing other people. Hit that old Freedom Trail once and for all.

It’s been an emotional ride. Twenty-seven years is a long time to spend with someone. But your recent antics have made it that much easier on us. So thanks for that, if nothing else.

But before we bid you farewell, we thought it would only be fair to offer some solid reasons why we’re moving on — a few nuggets of wisdom we’ve learned from our friends, not to mention a small fortune in psychotherapy. But don’t you worry that pretty chiseled head of yours for a single second. We wouldn’t dream of making you pay for it. If there’s one thing this entire charade has taught us, it’s the folly of sending you the bill.

1. Everything’s crumbling here at home. Remember one time years ago, when things were great between us and you were talking about branching out and opening a second Olives, and we were like, “Totally!” Well, that was before we knew that all we’d be left with was a couple of orphaned pizzerias and a cupcake vanity project.

This isn’t to begrudge you your dreams of building a culinary empire, an obsession you were fairly up-front about from day one, or even your interest in seeing other cities on the side. It’s just that it was a whole lot easier to cheer you on from home when you were still taking care of us. Nine years ago we were sitting pretty with the flagship Olives, four Figs locations, Bonfire steakhouse, Kingfish Hall, and Rustic Kitchen. So what if you were blazing a white-hot trail of national domination through New York, DC, Vegas? Back then you were keeping us too blissfully smitten — and too busy stuffing our faces — to care.

Today the home front has gone barren. We know, we know. We’ve had this talk before, and you don’t see it that way. But let’s take an inventory, shall we? The Wellesley Figs: closed. Bonfire: closed. Rustic Kitchen: lost in a lawsuit. Kingfish Hall: not long ago facing eviction for unpaid rent. But the unkindest cut is Olives, where we first fell in love with you: It’s closed, pending repairs after a kitchen fire. Pending and pending — incessantly pending — since May of last year. Without any acknowledgement, let alone real explanation why. That the New York and Las Vegas spinoffs are still humming is a slap in the face, but not nearly so much as our sneaking suspicion that those kitchen repairs here may actually be code for “I’ve moved on.”

So many problems here at home, yet you’ve somehow managed to find the time and the resources (and the unburned bridges?) to open the Plaza Food Hall, your newest good-time girl, which you’ve adorned with a wine bar, a bakery, and a demo kitchen where you can preen for the press. Then there’s Cross Bar, the kind of gastropub that we’ve always begged for. And, of course, Ça Va, the French brasserie. And all of it not here, but on prime Manhattan real estate. Ça va? Ça va assez merdique.

 

2. You’ve become a deadbeat dad. Look, we realize that restaurants and their sous-chef charges can be needy. (Change my menu! Pay my vendors! Stop by occasionally! Waaah!) But what can we say? Parenting’s no walk in the park. Not even when one of your long-ignored kids was raised right next to a park — the Park Plaza, a charming hotel we’re sure you would’ve grown to love had you spent a moment of time there. (Bonfire, shmonfire; we digress.)

The point is, cash management hasn’t exactly been your strong suit, as court cases have made clear. If we dismiss a couple of isolated incidents that came too early on in the relationship for us to pick up on — the Isola restaurant you opened in 1993, and quickly closed, with that hockey player; the 2002 Jim Cafarelli lawsuit that cost you Rustic Kitchen — the money troubles started a few years ago. Not that you told us. We had to read about them in the paper! Like that time we saw in the Globe that the court said you owed $4.5 million ($813,000 of your own money) in back rent for the Olives that shut down in DC. And what about the stack of lawsuits alleging you and your partners hadn’t paid $280,000 in bills from your new Manhattan crowd? A PR firm. A recording studio (huh?). A flower shop (we never saw a single stem). A luxury-apartment management company. Supposedly you owed them all. Oh, and closer to home, we heard that a couple of months ago, you were tens of thousands behind in back rent for Kingfish Hall. Real nice.

What hurts more than how you’ve dealt with your bigshot landlords, though, is the way you’ve treated our friends — the little guys who were blinded by your star and found out the hard way what happens when you ride celebrity coattails. “He never seemed to want to put anything in writing,” one local contractor told us when we admitted to him that we were having second thoughts about you. “But people would give him all kinds of credit based on the strength of his name. ‘He’s Todd English; he’s good for it.’ Yet here I am, long after the job is over, and the guy still owes me a chunk of money.” Todd, this kind of thing happens enough, and it’s not just your name that’s going down the drain…it’s our name, too! We both know things haven’t been the same for a long time now, but there are a lot of people out there who still think of us every time they think of you.

But back to parenting. Being a dad, of course, means more than just paying for the diapers, design work, and D’Artagnan duck breasts. (So we’re clear: It means all of that, too.) There’s the nonmonetary aspect: mentorship. Just look at those photo albums from our early days. Don’t laugh! They’re chock-full of shots of you and the little cheflings — Barbara, Suzy, Marc — all in the kitchen together. By comparison, the skimpy picture books from when the latest generation came along look simply anemic. The poor things: They still look up to you, so they have a much harder time facing the truth.

Joseph continues to defend you, of course. “He was there more than has been written about,” he told us when we complained about how you left him alone managing Olives the past 15 years…while you frolicked around the globe. “Chef English is very human.”

Okay, fine. But a mother knows.

3. You stuck us with that Faneuil Hall tourist trap.
You, more than anyone, know we’re total history buffs. How could you forget it? We have been for centuries. We love it, breathe it, can’t get enough of it. Which may be why we take extra-personally that sorry seafood-themed exhibit Kingfish Hall you had going the last time we checked at Faneuil Hall.

Yeah, it looks right — like the kind of restaurant frequented by those fin-de-siècle “settlers” you used to goof on when you first discovered them in Tribeca in the ’90s — if it happened to be built in a themed Las Vegas casino. And there was even a time when we might have enjoyed dining amid the stylized fishing-lodge décor, grooving on the New Age jungle beats and the oscillating spotlights doling out dizzying blasts of magenta, then blue, then green, then red — but that was back in the Sex and the City era.

Anyway, we could get beyond all that. But the food is another story. That miso-glazed sea bass appetizer? Cute! We get it! For an exhibit like this, we would have been ashamed had you not referenced Nobu. But tripling the portion and serving it as lettuce wraps — totally P. F. Chang’s. And the crispy lobster with scallion pancakes? Maybe the Gotham, Mr. Chow, Russian Tea Room, and IHOP riffs belong in four separate dishes. Just an idea….

Hey, we think museums are fab. But when they’re the only remaining vestige of fine dining from the culinary superstar we nurtured for decades, they just piss us off.

 

4. You’ve been a lousy role model. We never loved you because there was some chance you’d become a celebrity like Wolfgang Puck or Jean-Georges. That’s not in our nature. You know that. But honestly, is it absolutely necessary to make us look like utter buffoons every time you’re outside the city limits — which is pretty much constantly?

Every time you launch another lousy project it reflects poorly on us. The painful uninspiredness of English Is Italian. The plastic-knife-tender steak choked down by travelers connecting through Logan or JFK at Todd English’s Bonfire. The aching mediocrity of Bluezoo and the Libertine and Fish Club and Beso that left the critics writing about how your restaurant “lasted about nine minutes,” or was a “Midtown fiasco.” It’s altogether embarrassing. And that’s to say nothing of how we’ve felt about your line of pots and pans, your Home Shopping Network gig, your cooking show, your cookbooks, your cruise-ship ventures — and everything else you’re spending time doing instead of showing any love to your restaurants…or us!

Last February we read a post by Esquire food writer John Mariani that included “Ways to Tell a Restaurant Is Bad.” It wasn’t the best writing we’ve seen, but No. 12 on the list was a doozy. “It’s one of Todd English’s restaurants.” Awesome. Just great. Oh, isn’t he that chef from Boston?

Yup. He’s our guy.

 

5. You embarrass us in front of our friends. Part of why we fell for you in the first place is because we know how you love a good time. But lately you’ve been making yourself a laughingstock. You appear in ads for Michelob, the, ahem, “Gourmet Lager” (July 2005). And you claim you got clocked in the eye by a wristwatch-wielding fiancée (September 2009). You get caught “sucking serious face” by Page Six spies in New York’s Meatpacking District (November 2009), and host Miss Universe pageant contestants in Las Vegas at Todd English P.U.B. (August 2010). We just loved it when you told that reporter that “If heaven is like this, sign me up! I’m going!” You throw yourself a lavish, all-night 50th birthday bash in Nantucket, complete with a frosted cake bearing your likeness and a burlesque performance by scantily clad ladies (August 2010). You ask the lead singer of a blues band performing at the NYC Wine and Food Festival to step aside and give you a turn at the mike (October 2010). Oh, and you tell Martha Stewart, on-air, about a lingerie-shopping tutorial you’ve got planned with your 20-year-old son (February 2011).

You know, Todd, it really is time we moved on. We wish you well.

 

*We speak metaphorically here of the restaurants we so lovingly raised with our once-beloved.  

  • Sam

    Pretty presumptuous for you to speak for the whole city. You don’t speak for me. While Todd’s actions may not have endeared himself to the city, there’s no reason to slam him in such a distasteful

  • L

    It’s about time someone spoke up and told Todd English it was time to pack it in. Maybe he was a great chef once, but he isn’t anymore and hasnt been in quite some time. THANK YOU for finally saying it so we could move on and focus on the new great chefs making Boston proud every day.

  • Chris

    This is a rare and refreshing piece for Boston Magazine. Finally after years of worshiping Todd English blindly, this magazine has woke up to the reality of who he has become. Hopefully this marks a new era of criticism in which objectivity reigns when it comes to our city’s restaurants and chefs – rather than who advertise with them or wine and dine their editors.

    Thank you, Boston Magazine!

  • L

    Frankly Boston Mag we should break up with you. You have resorted to tabloid trash. Now I understand you are really scraping the bottom and putting this on twitter? Shame on you.

  • Jeanne

    Really, boston mag, what is the point of a mean-spirited PERSONAL attack on Todd English? In this economy, keeping restaurants afloat is no easy task, but regardless of the failings of the restaurants, a snarky personal attack by someone too cowardly to sign their name is far below what I expect from Boston magazine. Did someone not get enough freebies at Kingfish Hall?

  • Patty

    Boston Magazine, you & the so-called “writer” of this “article” owe Mr. English an apology. This is a vicious, mean-spirited personal attach and nothing more. what were you thinking? I for one will not read your drivel again

  • brian

    your cheeky disclaimer aside you should be sued for even remarking about kids being in rehab.what a gross lie and misrepresentation. An “*” Really FU. Just fire this writer and editor. Boston Magazine you are disgusting and I want no part of you ever again. Every restaurant should pull their ads from you today.FU

  • Lothar

    I guess English is open for criticism, but this is just a lazy piece of writing (umm, do some reporting?) and an unfair attack on a guy who as far as I see does ok – and yes, I’ve eaten at his places here, in NYc and Fla, and sometimes they’re meh, usually they’ve been excellent. Funny you dis Mariani too when your writing is, umm, not the best I’ve ever read.

  • Happy

    For Goodness’ Sake, It’s about time!!! I can’t remember the last time I actually laughed out loud reading a Boston Magazine article. This look at a chef who was so pivotal on the scene when I first moved here years ago was insightful and FUNNY! Hopefully it will light a fire under T.E.’s arse, or at least make him think. Kudos on this! Glad to see more writing with personality.

  • Lyssa

    I am completely appaulled by your vicious personal attack on Todd English. I have read articles that your magazine has written about criminals that showed more compassion. The “kids are in rehab”? You know many people only remember the sound bites. This statement reveals a lack of integrity that surely will cost you readership. I for one will never purchase your rag or read your pathetic “journalists” again. You have embarrased yourselves and our entire city.

  • lindsy

    Sounds like whoever wrote this “article” got picked on a lot when they were little and now you feel the need to bully someone else! Todd English can cook for me any night of the week, he’s still got it!

  • Chris

    Well if that tasteless, minor proportion of “the City of Boston” that you consider “US” feels the need to break it off with Todd, the rest of us will take him in. Most of the talent in Boston owe a debt of gratitude to him. And to whoever wrote that article? You can only HOPE to see as much success as Todd has… Bitch.

  • One who

    Todd English is the biggest hack Boston (and the U.S. for that matter) has ever seen. He redefines the word “douche-bag”. He has hurt so many people over the years, and ruined countless women’s lives. Shame on him. He has no friends, and his kids are seriously messed up. It is sad. Wake-up call, English! Try to cook once in awhile, and maybe you will get your mojo back. Until then, you are just another wanna-be has-been.

  • Misha

    Well done, Boston Magazine! I invested in English a long time ago. He stole from me, lied to me, and served countless customers crappy food. My friends still tease me about my “biggest financial loss ever,” and they are all correct. He never wanted to sign anything, and when I would ask him about his restaurants, he would get shifty, and never look me in the eye. The world’s biggest fraud and liar, English just does not have what it takes. He is a womanizer, cheat, scumbag, and complete waste of a human life. I hope he reads this article, and thinks about what a piece of sh&t he is. Oh wait– he cannot think– he has no brain.

  • P

    Rolling my eyes. Seriously. I don’t even know where to start with this piece.

  • PE

    Is this the National Inquirer? I think the “writer” must be the most miserable, jealous person on earth to “write” such a whiney, vindictive piece of crap. At least have some balance to your reporting. Maybe mention how Mr. English has put this city on the culinary map. How embarrassing for you Boston Magazine to have to resort to printing such complete garbage.

  • Maya

    Such is the state of journalism that an insecure high school sophomore who doesn’t know how to post a mean-spirited viral video on YouTube can somehow get published in “Boston Magazine.”

  • ema

    todd english is a douche. his latest endeavor on nantucket is failing miserably, we all dislike him here. can’t wait til we can ship him back to the mainland

  • K

    Ladies and Gentlemen, this year’s recipient of the T.A. D-B award is presented to Todd “I’m a Culinary God” English. This is an individual who has surpassed on every level the sordid memory of the D-B for whom the award is named. He has unfailingly screwed more people out of money, time, dignity, passion, and self-respect than anyone else in Boston. Yes, he is a consummate, self-absorbed, egotistical and complete douche-bag.
    Tony “Captain Intensity” Ambrose himself could not have envisioned a plan of this magnitude with his pithy little restaurant serfdom. Tony sulks in awe. BTW…where is he. Last we saw he was running away from Hingham.
    Congrats Todd. New York is going to chew you up and spit your bones into the Hudson. Good luck schmuck.

  • Sam

    Boston Mag should be ashamed of itself for writing trash like this. Too frightened to put your name on this editorial? In poor taste, very sad.

  • Amanda

    I’m in complete agreement w/ Anonymous, below. Amazing that you can publish something so scathing and not attribute an actual name to this article. I don’t give a hoot about Todd English, but I certainly feel ill about Boston Magazine now.

  • M

    I would like to know if the folks that say this article is unfair have actually been to any of his restaurants in the past 6 months. Have you tasted his greasy fish and fries? Have you tried his cheap white bread rolls? Everything about his meals are sad including the jacked up prices! There are so many other good choices in Boston, I would not waste my money on his meals again.

  • ann

    OMG…If I wanted to read “trash” I could have picked up the Enquirer…shame on you.

  • kyle

    Wow. who has an axe to grind? I’m embarassed for you Boston Magazine.

  • p

    I cannot believe how repulsed I am by Boston Magazine now. This is one of the most slanted, mean-spirited and cowardly articles I have ever written. Say what you will about the quality of the restaurant’s food, the market will bear it out in these competitive times. If they don’t deliver the goods, they won’t survive. Don’t you think he wants all his restaurants and businesses to succeed?! I come from a restaurant family and I cannot believe you are implying that anybody would choose to open restaurants and not care if they would succeed or not.

    And what has the cowardly author(s) ever done? They don’t even have the guts to sign such a hatchet job. It’s not like any of them have any potential outstanding job prospects in journalism in the future. They’re probably mostly living on minimum wage. (I actually had my first weekly newspaper column in 8th grade and I am now so glad I did not pick Journalism as a career)

    btw, I USED to read Boston Magazine (before this article), but I have lived in San Francisco for the past 20 years…

  • Jeanne

    This writing is worse than any suggestion of being “over Todd English” I have ever read. I suggest the writer use their name and not “from Boston” and get a life opposed to stalking his. Good Luck to the writer. This should have been a personal stalking letter. I have worked in hospitality for 20 years and Todd, we all wish you the best!

  • Rebecca

    Pretty sure he started it with a nasty letter that I think was in the Metro about a month ago? Maybe more? I saw that and was beyond angry. I’m sick of New Yorkers telling us how much “better” their city is than ours. His article was jab after jab about how Boston is too “small” and not classy enough. If this is a retaliation letter, then I applaud the magazine.

  • christine

    he really doesn’t owe us ANYTHING. if you are this personally offended by a man who owns restaurants, you’re obviously insane. is this the biggest problem in your sad little world?

  • p

    Rebecca said, “I’m sick of New Yorkers telling us how much “better” their city is than ours. His article was jab after jab about how Boston is too “small” and not classy enough.”

    ——————————–

    Well, congratulations then. Views like yours and this article proves his point.

  • Darlene

    Note that most of the “supporters” are from out of town. And likely part of a PR campaign. See this from the NY Post
    “After articles in Boston magazine branded English a “tourist-feeding hack” a

  • Lois

    Leave it to Boston Mag to to define the insecurities of ongoing amateur-hour Boston. Ten yrs ago I left beantown and never looked back at those who can’t handle fame – where I didn’t quite fit in – and have discussed this many times with others who feel the same and gone on to NYC. Since my departure I’ve been a host on an ABC News show, write for Hearst and Conde Nast – real magazines, and this year walked the red carpet with my three time Oscar nominee (winner) boyfriend. In this world nobody judges or condemns. They just ‘get it.’ The only thing I apparently did wrong was NOT keep my foot in the Boston door like poor Todd (still with restaurants there out of respect for his roots.) I just spent a weekend with Todd and friends. He is hands-on a great dad, human being and confidant. Courteous, humble and as earthy/simple/rustic/peasant as some of the family style Italian dishes he serves. His restaurants are well-received in NY and the menus outstanding. Sorry your editors never advanced to the big time and decided to do what small time writers do…write anything to get a…

  • Lois

    continued from above: Sorry your writers/editors never advanced to the big time and decided to do what small time writers do…write anything to get a byline. Forget Bolognese-bashing you might serve up an order of integrity.
    You’ve met your limits. Welcome to your future. You’ll be in Boston for life.

  • Mindy

    Pretty funny and clever — it manages to skewer both Boston and Todd English. I am amazed at all the posters who are up in arms at this little parody (perhaps they are all employees of Mr English’s many ventures?) — especially by the person spewing about walking the red carpet and spending the weekend with “TE and friends”. My hope is that that letter is a parody too, but somehow I doubt it! Anyway, keep up the good work Boston Magazine!

  • Tedd

    The big laugh in this piece is that nobody cares about BOSTON magazine. Eventually, all successful Bostonians must do what Todd English did: Leave Boston behind! Move away from the small, petty, provincial minds that would author and publish an article like this. Boston is the Jan Brady of cities: trying to pass itself off as Marcia but knowing deep down it’s the sister nobody wants.

  • lola

    Some of you misunderstood the deadbeat dad thing. It is about being a father to restaurants, not children. It’s a metaphor. Did you even read it?

  • Carol

    You forgot to mention Figs in Nantucket which is mediocre at best

  • weeeeee

    As a recent, former manager at one of Todd’s NYC ventures, I can attest to the the truth of two items of gossip: Todd and his partners (especially Brian Crawford) do not pay their vendors on time, and push them out for weeks at a time until they threaten to stop delivering. And Todd is REALLY into petite asian women (not necessarily even attractive ones) and has a new one on his hip from week to week. We had to cater to them and their respective twenty-something friends at several locations whenever we got a call from him or his corporate chef, Jeff Steelman) ‘Take care of them, send them a bottle of Champagne, void their entire check, make it disappear’ These were common refrains.

    He is congenial in person, and easy to get along with, but there definitely are cracks in this facade.

  • X

    That is why many of his restaurants have closed. It might have been refreshing 10 years ago, but he can leave the overpriced bistro fare to Vegas and Delta Air Lines. The guy makes airline food these days! (I’m pretty sure he doesn’t do any cooking anymore either, he is a brand, supported by PR and magazines such as yourselves)

  • ron

    I can understand how one can be so angry with a single guy, but, really if you’re going to be a bitter Betty….. slap your name on the letter. Have the guts to stand behind your convictions.

  • Cindy

    So glad to hear that not all are enamored by this POS excuse for a human being. I came to these conclusions about him after the Food Network’s “Chef Wanted” show where Chef Tully Wilson won the contest at his Manhatten Olive resturant, yet was blown off and was never given that or any other postion in TE’s organization. It even came to light that he called and berated and cussed out Chef Tully for going to Huffington Post and making it public that TE had renigged on his offer. He is not worth the paper any article about him may be printed on.