There are circumstances in my case that made going to school an absolute necessity in order to break into the field. But I learned basic, universal information in school that I doubt I could have picked up as fast had I just gone to work:
Professional techniques, not just trucs
Management -- financial, organizational, human
The organization of the professional kitchen
School gave me the groundwork I needed to jump in and move up rapidly.
Yes, if you work in a kitchen, you will learn to do what you need to do IN THAT KITCHEN. But maybe not what you need to know to work in ANY kitchen.
If you are young, I would say DO BOTH: start as soon as possible to get practical experience, but also go to school to learn at least the basics of food science, art, and management. It doesn't have to be CIA. Just a school that opens your mind to the possibilities of food.
Even though school is hard, (while working full time and NOT being all that young) I think it is so worth it. Learning about sanitation is so important!!! I actually know more about food safety than the people who own and run the place and due to my knowing things, I have helped them to pass inspections, known when their cooler under the sandwhich prep table was not cold enough and saved them ruined food. It has resulted in my being promoted from Sandwich Prep at the cold station to being the person who prepares and bakes their main product--bagels.
I am learning so much, and it is worth the hard work and sacrifice of free time.:chef: