This is more than likely something many of you have never heard:
Don't go to culinary school! Huge expenses, debt, and low pay for years is what you will incur. Join the military, preferably the Air Force or Navy as a Services or Mess Specialist. Learn as much as you can about the principals of the kitchen in your 4-6 years in. You will start out for the most part as a prep cook, fry cook, or burger flipper and need to work your way up, of course. Spend at least 4 years in. And don't just learn cooking, but baking too. If the military kitchen doesn't have baking, enroll in courses or teach yourself. Be versatile! Baking requires a lot more strategy and preciseness.
Once you are about to separate or retire from the military, go to usajobs.gov and apply for a cook position in the Wage Grade category, usually it's from WG-05 to WG-08. Hourly pay ranges from $15 to $30 an hour depending on where you live and time you've worked, with pay raises increasing at 6 months, then every 1 1/2 years 4 more times until maxed out and dependent on annual raises by then. Avoid those NA cook jobs, which are usually $10 an hour, short order cooking with few benefits.
The Wage Grade cooks for the most part work at VA kitchens, military hospitals, or Army and Air Force dining halls. Most of the rest are employed by Department of the Interior for seasonal work. Most hire only those that are already in the civil service or served at least 4 years in the military with an honorable discharge.
Most of the time, the cooking will not be anything glamorous, but still a fine deal and you're paid what you're worth, plus benefits, vacation, and retirement.
AND, there's another alternative. Working at a remote environment or on a boat for weeks at a time, like a 3 on and 3 off. Alaska and offshore rigs are full of those jobs! Most of your pay comes from overtime. Annual salary usually ranges $50-70K per year. Knew a cook that worked for Crowley Maritime cooking only for 6 people on a tugboat making 70K per year.
From what I haven't mentioned here, the sad reality is that the private sector of kitchen work, whether you are a dishwasher or executive chef with decades of experience, is a hard life! Drug and alcohol abuse, low pay, burnout, and high turnover are extremely common.