How Hong Kong’s More Good is making a difference with head chef Mike Silva

Whether it’s for Yardbird customers or vulnerable groups who need daily nutrition, cooking is just a natural thing for Mike Silva.

The pandemic was a game changer for Mike Silva, as his work shifted from Yardbird, Hong Kong’s well-known izakaya, to becoming head chef of More Good, a charity that works to provide high-quality meals to underprivileged communities. 

Silva has been in the culinary industry for more than 14 years. And like most chefs, he dreamed of one day owning his own restaurant. But as time went on, he understood that his passion for cooking could have a broader community impact, a realization that struck during the height of the COVID pandemic. 

Fast-forward four years, and tens of thousands of meals have been cooked and delivered, over a hundred volunteering sessions have been hosted and partnerships have been developed across the F&B scene and nonprofit sector. More Good is actively leaving a lasting impact across the city.

TMS caught up with More Good’s head chef Mike Silva to learn about the different layers of his life – how a vegan guy who loved to skate ended up moving to Hong Kong and how the team at More Good saw an opportunity to help communities in need during a time when restaurants were in limbo. 

From the dish pit to cooking on the line

Born in Connecticut, in the US, Silva started working in the F&B industry at a young age. As a 13-year-old boy with messy hair, he was serving and dishwashing, spending most of his time in the back of the house. 

“I wasn't the best server,” Silva says, chuckling, “and then one time they're like, ‘Oh, why don't you try dishwashing?’ and then I kind of went to the back.” 

Despite not starting out as a line cook, Silva had a natural attraction to cooking, something that came both from making food with his sisters growing up and seeing the same recipes made over and over by chefs he worked with. “I have three sisters, and we would all just kind of cook together,” Silva explains. “Not really that nutritious – like fried potatoes and stuff – but it kind of got the ball rolling. 

“There are just moments in a kitchen where a cook is out sick, or probably hungover, but is out that day, and I've seen them make that same salad a thousand times as I was dishwashing, ” he adds. “It's kind of natural to end up taking on more responsibility as you're going to the kitchen.”

Silva moved to San Francisco with his friends at the end of high school. “I really just wanted to get out,” he says. “I was going to move to a big city somewhere, either New York or … but I've been to New York so many times; it wasn't really that exciting to me. So I was like, ‘Oh, San Francisco would be cool.’ 

“I was doing a lot of skating and a lot of just hanging out with my friends and didn't have a direction, and then I just found a really good job with some really good chefs who were serious … and I didn't know you can be serious about cooking,” Silva laughs. “So seeing all the older guys … that's where things kind of started.” 

During his time in San Francisco (about a decade), Silva’s career took off. He went from his dishwashing position to sous chef, “giving it 120%” to move up. 

“I was the youngest chef there at the time,” he recalls, “and then my whole goal is ‘I want to move up, I want to be a sous chef, I need to get a title on my resume.’”

One trip, one decision

From there, the restaurant Silva was with offered to send him anywhere in the world for an experiential learning opportunity. “They offered this great package of ‘We'll send you anywhere in the world you want to go, you want to cook; we'll send you for a week, and we'll pay,’" he recalls.  

At this point, the Pearl of the East fell on Silva’s radar, and he made his way to Hong Kong. “I'd never seen a wet market before, so that was eye-opening,” Silva says, smiling. 

It was also at this time that he fell in love with the Michelin-starred Yardbird, a restaurant branded by skate artist Evan Hecox. “[Yardbird] resonated with me a little bit more than any other restaurant because of the kind of skate vibe to it, the music … so those things are just, like, it's kind of a no-brainer in my head. But I really had to resist the urge to be like ‘I want to move here.’”

Yardbird Hong Kong
Source: Yardbird

It wasn’t until a lengthy conversation with Yardbird chef and co-owner Matt Abergel that Silva finally made the decision to move to Hong Kong. “[Matt] had a really good cookbook that came out. I was reading it, and he had a whole section where he talks about his staff, which I felt was really touching … chefs don't talk about their staff too much … I was wondering, ‘How does he keep people for so long – like what's the draw? … I gotta find that out.’”

From there, Silva had to ask himself, “Where do I really want to go cook?” and weigh all the options.

“California is great,” Silva thought. “There's a bunch of cool stuff happening, but I really just want to open my mind to something completely different.” He clicked quickly with Yardbird, the food culture, the eye-opening wet markets and the people in Hong Kong. 

“It's rare to find a restaurant where people are that close,” Silva says. “Usually, chefs don't talk about their staff too much. Most of the time, chefs do the job, have a drink at the end and then go home.” 

Just cook for people

More Good Hong Kong
Source: More Good

As the pandemic lingered in Hong Kong, the F&B scene took a big hit. But at the same time, Silva was also feeling like getting away from restaurants for a bit – but not because he lost the drive to be a chef. “I just didn't feel that it was that important to me anymore,” he remembers. 

It was also around then that he heard friends back in San Francisco were doing charity work in the community, including a project called Feed the People. Something about the idea clicked for him. “Why not?” he thought and started chatting with Abergel about doing something like that in Hong Kong. It just so happened that Abergel had also been talking with a few other people about doing something similar. So from there, the idea started taking shape. “Let's just cook for people; there's really no reason not to,” Silva recalls thinking.

Back then, the pandemic hit Hong Kong’s unprivileged population hard. More Good explains that 30% of those surveyed reported spending less than HK$58 (US$7.50) per person a day – the typical food expense for low-income families in the city.

What concerned Silva was also a more marginalized community – 76% of those surveyed had to opt out of fresh ingredients due to financial difficulties. This is where More Good found its calling, with the aim of providing nutritious meals to the underprivileged, free of charge.

Whether it’s for Yardbird customers or vulnerable groups who need daily nutrition, cooking is just a natural thing for Silva. “I cook for 30 people; what's adding 150 more?” he laughs. "The concept is the same in my mind.”

Silva’s Yardbird family – the major reason he stayed in the city – also turned out to be the best teammates along this new charitable journey. They started by collaborating with Impact Hong Kong to give away rice-based meal boxes that had a solid mix of protein and vegetables. 

Later, the team developed their own ways of connecting to the local community near a wet market where Silva usually buys food. They set up a signboard in the market asking if anybody wanted free food. Surprisingly, they were swarmed with around 260 sign-ups. These days, More Good’s activities are funded and supported by fundraising parties, donations and volunteers.

Nutritious food for the masses

More Good Hong Kong
Source: More Goo

Anyone familiar with More Good will immediately notice its emphasis on nutritious, healthy food. Much of this stems from Silva’s philosophy on food, which was transformed when he became vegan for over five years during his time in the States. 

Silva went vegan when he was 13, surprising his friend who had introduced him to this different lifestyle. “I kind of ended up taking it way farther than he did. I think he was vegan for like six months, [and] I ended up being vegan for like six years,” he laughs. 

At that time, San Francisco, one of the top-rated cities for vegans in the US, seemed like the ultimate culinary paradise to Silva. “There's a lot of vegan food there, so I felt that was the perfect spot for me,” he explains.

Even though he weaned off the vegan journey at 19 to pursue a career as a chef, veganism has deeply shaped his philosophy on food. He usually starts with a vegetable side when coming up with a dish, then brings in the lean protein and rice-grain mix. “The vegan in me,” Silva chuckles, “I always think of the vegetable first.”

More Good’s mission echoes Silva’s food philosophy, as their meal box focuses on a balanced diet, quality ingredients and thoughtful cooking. But the thoughtfulness is underscored by Silva’s creativity. Not every meal is necessarily meticulously planned out; some of Silva’s process is what he calls “freeform” and comes together the day of. “I keep a good larder in my walk-in of fermented things and sauces” that helps pull together ideas, he adds.

Things for More Good started small, in Yardbird's kitchen, where Silva jokingly remembers being “in the way” while the staff was preparing for service. But now the team has moved to an industrial-sized kitchen of its own. “It’s been about two years now that we’ve been running it,” Silva says. “I went from wearing clogs and Danskos to wearing running shoes … it’s a big kitchen,” he laughs.

Finding a new path

More Good Hong Kong
Source: More Goo

After years at the helm of More Good, Silva now enjoys the lifestyle that comes with charity work. He’s still a chef but has more time for himself than he did working in a busy restaurant kitchen. 

“Making the transition over was very easy – to go from ordering every day to only ordering like three times a week, which was nice,” Silva says with a grin. “The weirdest thing is definitely having time for myself, like thinking about what I have to cook for dinner,” he laughs.

When asked about the biggest challenge he’s faced during his career, Silva mentions it was difficult to manage the quality of his life, referring to one thing he regrets: not spending enough time with family and friends. “The amount of time I spent in the restaurant I think was the challenging part.”

“There are times when I’ll be in a busy restaurant and see everyone moving around and be like ‘Oh, this is good,’ and I do miss it at that moment, but then when I go back to doing what I do, I wake up and walk in, and I get to cook how I want to cook but also get to experience that rush of service on the weekends when we do events … I still get a little bit of that feeling out of it, but I have time to rest.”

Before the launch of More Good, Silva was adamant about following a concrete path to becoming a head chef and owning his own restaurant. But now, he’s found a new balance between work and life and alternative paths to making the most of his talents.

“I just realized my energies can be put to better use. I have a skill set that I can use to help people,” he says.

Hello TMS family,

On behalf of the whole TMS team, we would love to extend an invite to all of you for The Rescued Feast, an event between us, food-saving app CHOMP and charity More Good.

Alex Nude, Cassio’s Music Director, will be behind the DJ booth alongside MC Benny Cullen at the event.

Some of the minds behind More Good are also behind the kitchen of our favorite yakitori joint in the city – Yardbird. Using food scraps from vendors on CHOMP, the team at More Good will turn what would’ve become wasted food into a high-end dining feast.

All proceeds will go to More Good so they can continue distributing quality food and meals to underprivileged populations and communities across Hong Kong.

Here is the ticketing info: and we hope to see you there!