Here is my situation: I've been cooking professionally off and on for eleven years. I know my way around a kitchen. I have been working at an upscale European style restaurant with classical French dishes and techniques for the past year. I am one of two lead line cooks in the kitchen and one or both of us is in charge of the kitchen at night if the chef isn't there and sometimes I still am an charge of service as he is in the back prepping for a tasting menu.
I just turned forty and am working with other line cooks that are in their mid twenties or younger. I am keeping up them for now, but I wonder how many more years I have with fast moves and clean plates. I enjoy the delegation of duties and making sure consistent food goes out the door. I like being in charge and having people come to me with questions and being able to answer those with confidence. Confidence that I've gained working hard for a year in this kitchen while reading culinary text books and kitchen math texts on my days off and before work.
I am thinking about culinary school but it will be difficult. It's a two year program that will probably take me four because I have to still work and commute to school which is two hours away. I don't really have the money for it but am saving every last penny. On the other hand I want to branch out and work in more restaurants in other parts of the country and gain more experience, possibly even working in Europe, which would be a dream.
So my question is this: I feel the crunch of time and not sure I can still hang as a line cook at fifty. I would like to be running a kitchen sooner than later as I enjoy that aspect and coming up with new dishes. I also would like to travel to different areas of the country and learn more about different foods and cooking techniques but much of it is to see other parts of the country while living and working there, such as Colorado. In your experience, should I spend the next four years in culinary school, which would make me forty four before graduation, or should I spend the next four years in various kitchens around the world gaining experience that way. In this day in age can someone become a chef at a very nice restaurant without a culinary degree? I believe it's possible, yet doesn't happen where I live, to become a chef based on merit of experience.
In your opinion which way should I go, please bearing in mind that I am feeling the crunch of time and would like to move up the rung as fast as possible while learning what I need to learn to get to chef position.
Thank you for your answers, sorry this was so long, it's a huge issue for me right now and I feel I needed to explain in detail my situation.