15 minutes with Fully Booked founder Sharlee Gibb

Sharlee Gibb, founder of Fully Booked, sits down with foodservice to discuss about the importance building a social community for women in the food and drinks industry and what she's planning next.

What does Fully Booked mean to you?

Fully Booked for me is about giving opportunities for women to raise their profile. I wanted to do something with women in the industry, but I wasn't really sure what that was. I actually thought about it over 18 months about what it was exactly that I was trying to create.

Where did the idea for Fully Booked come from?

I am part of a recipe club, which is a group of eight women. We get together on the last day of every second month. And it was the comradery of that group and its support that I wanted to create on a bigger scale.

So, when I finally kind of worked out what the first event would be, it was kind of to create an environment where everyone knew who was there, who was in the room, we were eating good food, drinking great wine and just having the chance for conversation and connection.

We kept the events for Fully Booked small, kind of 30 to 40, so that we could actually all talk to each other. When we start the event with everyone standing up separately and introducing themselves. Nothing major, but so everyone actually knows who's in the room and then later on in the evening we swap seats, so everyone has a chance to meet each other.

What was the very first Fully Booked event?

The first event was with Jo Barrett and we had this cafe space in Hawthorn, back in October 2015. Jo had just taken on Oakridge with Matt Stone. And will Fully Booked, it was her first time she'd kind of been asked to do an event where she was the headliner.


Who have been the big female influences in your life?

My mom definitely. She was a single parent as my parents divorced when I was about five, so she was a real important person in my life, all the way through and still now. Kind of a sounding board and a realist as well. So, it always good to have her as part of the things that are going on in my life.

My best friend, Vanessa too. We've known each other since the late 90s when we were working together in Noosa. We worked together in a restaurant and then later I moved to London, and she then eventually moved to London. We worked together there and then we're back here. So, we've been separated by distance, but we're very close and we make an effort throughout the year that we kind of make sure we see each other regularly. She's an amazing woman, she's really dynamic, she's really motivating, she's involved in the hospitality industry as well, but she's very kind, gentle, caring and such a special person in my life.

What does success mean to you?

I think success for me in terms of Fully Booked is the community building and people engaging, women engaging with the community. Because we're only doing smaller events, it doesn't feel like it's hundreds and hundreds, but actually the 40 women that come are all completely on board. So, next time around they're bringing friends and word of mouth has been the best way to kind of build the authenticity of Fully Booked. So, yeah, I kind of think the fact that it's continually running and people want to come to events means that it's been a success.

What has been your path through the hospitality industry?

I've worked in food and bev since leaving school. My first job was at resort in Queensland. It was my first kind of foray, but then I got a hotel management trainingship as part of the role.

I just worked in hospitality whether it was gastropubs or full bars, whatever it was. I moved to London and started working at Monte's, which was a private members club in Knightsbridge. It was where Jamie Oliver had his first restaurant outside of being at The River Cafe and it was after The Naked Chef had been published and the TV show had been on, so it was just kind of at the start of his fame.

I worked at Monte's for nearly two years. We really got to learn about food, I guess provenance, the quality of the produce and so much more than just kind of serving food. So, then I decided I wanted to learn more about food. I finished working there and I moved over to Ireland, to County Cork where I went to Ballymaloe Cookery School.

I did a three month certificate course. You live there, you cook. All you do is you learn about food, you cook, you go to class, you work in the gardens, you kind of learn about the whole cycle of food. I really loved it because I hadn't really learned the basics of cooking.

I thought I was going to go cook in a restaurant in London and I started doing that and I'm like, "No I don't want to do that." Because you've got to be really determined if that's the career that you want. 

So I went back to working front of house, managing restaurants before I came back to Australia. I eventually landed in Melbourne and I start working at Vue de Monde. Again, doing a bit of everything, events, reservations, we did the big move from Carlton over to the city. They were Restaurant of the Year a couple of years running. So, it was a really great time to be a part of it. Then I moved over to Enoteca Sileno in Lygon Street kind of a distributor and food emporium, doing events with them.

Then Melbourne Food & Wine Festival came up, this job came up. It was my dream job and I got the job. It was amazing. I had five and a half years there and I loved it. It was tough working in a non-for-profit, but you just producing the festival and having people that came over for the festival was so great to be a part of. I really enjoyed it.

My sons came in between that time, so I went back to work after Finn, my oldest, and then when Jay came along I kind of realised that I wasn't going to be able to go back into that environment, which was very much 24/7. So, while I was kind of looking after the boys, I was kind of doing events on the side under my own business brand, curateEAT. I would help people with events or I would help people who needed to connect with chefs for different projects.


What's next for Fully Booked?

The plan is still to just build the community, to try and tackle all the states event-wise and even if I can't personally do it, because it's difficult for me to travel with the boys. The thinking is if I get one event up and running and there's a community there, then there may be some women in that community that are ready to do the next one and keep on. Then our ambassadors as well work in that way. I'm hoping this will work in that way and they'll take on some responsibility for keeping that ongoing. Because I don't want it to just happen only because I'm there, but more because the women feel like they want that community.

For further information, please visit fullybookedwomen.com.