Travel & Culture

Watch Not Your Butter Chicken Docu-Series This Asian Heritage Month

April 10, 2024

Award-winning filmmakers Priyanka Desai and Joanna Wong take viewers on an exhilarating road trip through the Indo-Canadian story with Not Your Butter Chicken, a four-part docu-series hosted by food and wine expert Shiva Reddy. The TELUS original series premieres May 1, 2024 in celebration of Asian Heritage Month, with episodes featuring British Columbia’s Kamloops and Kelowna and Alberta’s Lethbridge and Fort McMurray. Once a competitive hockey player, host Shiva grew up to be one of the first South Asian women to make it in the world of wine and fine dining in Canada. Now grappling with her mother’s battle with dementia, Reddy is on a journey to piece together the story of her Indian heritage through food and community. Viewers are invited to join this lively celebration of South Asian culture and make new memories alongside Reddy as she discovers the untold stories of Indo-Canadians in Western Canada. We chatted with Shiva to learn more. —Vita Daily

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind “Not Your Butter Chicken” and what viewers can expect from the docu-series?

Everyone knows Butter Chicken, but not the culture that created it. The title is a playful invitation to discover all the ways Indian culture is more than this go-to dish. If you love butter chicken, if you hate it, this series is still for you. It’s an invitation.

On a personal level, my mom showed her love through cooking and feeding me. As she’s been slowly losing her memories due to dementia, we have been losing our recipes. Making this docu-series has been a way for me to create new memories, connect with my mom and share my story with my community – learning I’m not the only one experiencing this story.

Your journey from competitive hockey player to a prominent figure in the world of wine and fine dining is fascinating. How did your passion for food and wine develop, and what motivated you to pursue a career in this field?

Two hands and a heartbeat. That’s what I had, coincidentally also happened to be the requirement to doing the grunt work in restaurants. I began in restaurants as a necessity to help my mom who was very ill and couldn’t work.

To my surprise, a job I did out of necessity continuously played with my curiosity. Service seemed mystical and wine just made sense, all of my favorite things food, geography, history, culture, fashion, human behavior and curiosity all balled up in a sommelier. I was hungry because I had to make ends meet, but I was thirsty for knowledge and I couldn’t get enough of it.

“Not Your Butter Chicken” explores the untold stories of Indo-Canadians in Western Canada. What inspired you to delve into your Indian heritage through food and community, especially in light of your mother’s battle with dementia?

I see my mom lose a bit of herself everyday and it makes me want to hold on even tighter. The most visceral way to hold on to her is through the flavours of her food.

Being my mom’s primary caregiver has felt very isolating. It feels like nobody knows the struggle; however the most empowering thing I felt was by sharing our story and only to realize there were so many others who felt the same way.

The docu-series features locations such as Kamloops, Kelowna, Lethbridge, and Fort McMurray. Can you share some highlights or memorable experiences from filming in these diverse regions?

I was very personally moved by our episode filmed in Kamloops. I got to learn so much about how South Asians built the foundations of Canada and this history has gone unacknowledged.  We were introduced to the city of Kamloops through the eyes of reporter Meera Bains, one of the first South Asian women I saw on television. Meera brought me home to meet her parents, who along with her aunties and uncles told me about the incredible sacrifices of their early days in Canada and how the community came together to build the city’s first temple. I got to meet so many aunties and uncles who shared their stories and made sure I left with a full belly.

Fort McMurray taught me so much about sacrifice and new beginnings. I met Shweta, a famous Indian actress, who gave up everything to move to a country and grow a family, just like my mom. Shweta was a celebrity in India and had a big career in film and music. In Fort McMurray, she was so isolated she struggled to even order a coffee. Immigrant stories often forget the voices of women who hold families together behind the scenes, so it was great to tell her story. Now she’s using her talents to teach others in Fort McMurray about Indian culture through food and dance.

As one of the first South Asian women to make it in the world of wine and fine dining in Canada, what challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?

It was a simultaneously thrilling yet lonely journey. Every room I walked into I realized I was the only one who looked like me – a young person of colour who identified as female. The message I constantly got was I should just be grateful to be in the room and while I was, I wasn’t okay with it. In fact, trying to fit the mold made me miserable. I was still being passed up for positions, not being invited to tastings. The moment I realized I may not be liked by everybody, but can make a difference by stepping up and using my voice, was the most powerful moment of my life. I realized my focus in the wine industry was different from others; it wasn’t just about the juice, it was about creating space. The journey may have been lonely for me, but now I get to see the next generation thrive.

Food plays a central role in cultural identity and storytelling. How do you believe food can be used as a tool to connect people and preserve cultural heritage?

Sometimes it’s hard to express the magnitude of our love through words or actions. But there is no stronger feeling than knowing you were able to nourish and love the people in your life through your cooking.

In “Not Your Butter Chicken,” you explore the fusion of South Asian and Canadian cuisines. Can you discuss some examples of this fusion and its significance in today’s culinary landscape?

Fusion is a funny word. It entices so many feelings. I like the idea of a third culture that we experience as first generation kids. We live in two worlds where we have to function but through our own experience we create a third culture, one that is uniquely us.

We hear the term farm-to-table all the time. We experience it and think about it, but often through the euro-centric lens. The food is European or ‘Western’ but farm-the-table can also be Indian.

Your personal journey is intertwined with the exploration of South Asian culture in Western Canada. How do you hope your experiences and discoveries will resonate with viewers?

I’ve always felt alone in my journey. I’ve always been the only one who looks like me, whether that is in a hockey locker room, classroom or restaurant. I’ve always felt like I’m not enough – whether that means I’m not Indian enough for the Westerners or I’m too Western for my fellow Indians. I know I’m not the only one who feels like this.

“Not Your Butter Chicken” premieres in celebration of Asian Heritage Month. What message or takeaway do you hope viewers will gain from watching the series, particularly in terms of cultural appreciation and understanding?

Canada wouldn’t be what it is today without South Asians who did the hard, thankless work that built the country – the railroads, logging and farming. Asian Heritage Month is our chance to honor and celebrate the South Asian community, our elders and a history that is often forgotten.

Our South Asian culture and heritage here in Western Canada is so rich, but not often celebrated or acknowledged. This is our time to step into our power and feel how strong our community is, while also having the time of our lives celebrating our journey.

Looking ahead, what do you envision for the future of “Not Your Butter Chicken,” and are there any upcoming projects or initiatives that you’re excited to share with your audience?

The dream is to continue this journey across Canada and back to India and Fiji. There is so much more to learn, eat, and celebrate.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


get social


get more out of


Want the best, curated headlines and trends on the fly?

get more out of vita

Sign up for one, or sign up for all!