I have a story to tell. It is about how I got into fine dining restaurants/the food industry. I've gone through **** and back, at times everything seemed hopeless, and I've also got some lucky (or hard earned) breaks.
Anyhow, I was working as a salesperson for a @#$%ty retail chain. I hated my job, it felt so unfulfilling. So I got a job at a chain restaurant my buddy was working at. Wasn't anything special, but I learned ALOT. How to work on a line, organisation, a few basic cooking techniques, temperatures for meats, kitchen safety, etc... After 8 months and no raises (despite assuming much more responsibility than I should have), I quit.
I then worked at a small golf course kitchen, apprenticing under a chef. Most days it was only the chef and I working (sous chef and other cook at night), I learned all the basics from her. One day her sous chef quit/got fired, so I assumed his responsibilities (albeit without the official title or pay). Running a kitchen was an eye-opening experience - although my skills were not that great, I learned how to make it work. No better way to learn then getting tossed right into the fire.
Earlier in the year I had sent an application to culinary school. Despite my outstanding high school marks and a good half year of kitchen experience, I was REJECTED from culinary school. The golf season finished around this time, so I was without a job and it seemed as though my future was hopeless - without school I couldn't get anywhere in the industry right?
Anyhow, I'm handing out résumés downtown, and I stumble across a large, old building that happens to be a famous restaurant. I walk in nervously, apply for a job. Amazingly enough the chef wants to talk to me. We chat for awhile, and set up a time for a 1 day stage. When I came to work that day, I worked faster and harder than ever and got the job. No education, barely any experience, and I'm in the 2nd highest rated restaurant in the city, working for a very well respected chef from Brittany. 3 months later, I'm promoted to Chef de Partie, at only 19 years of age. I'm in charge of 3 other cooks, all of whom graduated culinary school and have 5-10 years on me.
Anyhow, that was nearly a year ago, my life has been crazy, I'm not at that job anymore (my decision), but that's how I got into fine dining. No school, just a ton of hard work. I worked 15 hour days 5-6 days a week (a few weeks 7), when I got off work I'd go home to study more cooking techniques on my own. I'd even practice techniques and recipes at home until perfecting them.
In the last year, I've been Chef de Partie and trained many culinary school grads, all of whom were much older and more experienced than I. All I can say is that my opinion of culinary school is not that great. Most of them have a @#$%ty work ethic, they know basic concepts but have never applied them, their techniques are amateurish and they can create fancy looking, creative dishes that are disappointing and the flavours are unrefined.
Getting rejected from culinary school was honestly the best thing that happened in my short cooking career, it forced me to work that much harder and the tough times I went through made me much stronger. I also find it amazing that I got a much better education in the industry than most grads get at school. In the last year I've used every single cooking technique known to man (including the most recent fads - sous vide cooking, I've also turned many an ingredient into foam), and I've worked with plenty of exotic ingredients (including fresh truffles that were flown from Italy only hours before I handled them).
BTW, doing dishes is a very important thing. Too many culinary school grads seem to have the opinion that they are above doing dishes. Well I've worked for a chef from a Michelin starred restaurant that does dishes - no one is above doing dishes. How can you honestly tell someone you want them to a job you aren't even willing to do?
Anyhow, that's my long story (even though it's only a fraction of what I've actually been through). All I can say is school or no school, if you have the drive, are willing to put in the effort, you WILL succeed.