Chef Todd English Inside His Messy Split

updated 10/26/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/26/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When Todd English stepped out on his wedding day, he certainly looked like he was all set for the event. He had arrived at Miami's hip WALL nightclub, surrounded by his closest friends, with a magnum of Veuve Clicquot at the ready. Trouble was, English's wedding was supposed to be taking place some 1,200 miles away at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City—where his fiancée, English's former personal assistant Erica Wang, was waiting, along with some 150 guests. "I still love her," English tells PEOPLE. "But I couldn't go through with it."

The reasons behind English's decision not to show up for his Oct. 3 trip down the aisle are as intriguing as the flavors in one of his signature Italian dishes. Breaking down in tears, English—a Top Chef guest judge whose 16-restaurant food empire includes L.A.'s Beso, which he owns with Eva Longoria Parker—points to a "really bad falling-out" about 10 days before the wedding, during which, he claims, Wang physically assaulted him. "I was blown away by it," says English, who is mulling whether to file a police report. "My family, close buddies—they pulled me aside and said, 'What are you doing? You have to stop trying to make this work.'"

But other friends of the couple say it was English's infidelity that was the real problem. "He had other girlfriends," says a pal. (When asked, English, 49, said he could not comment on such claims.) And although Wang, 33, was unavailable for this story, in an interview with the New York Post she denied hitting English, and said she learned he wasn't coming to their wedding in an "icy" phone call that ended when he hung up on her. (English claims he broke things off a week earlier.) "He has caused me, my friends and family so much pain," she said.

With accusations flying, Wang has moved out of the couple's downtown Manhattan apartment, while English has retreated to Boston, where he is receiving support from his ex-wife and three children. Moving past the breakup is the one thing the couple can agree on. "This was," says English, "the best thing for the both of us."

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