One of the biggest differentiating factors between a self-schooled chef and one who has graduated from a formal culinary institution is the inclusion of French cooking techniques into his or her repetoire. According to Wikipedia.org, "Almost all culinary schools use French cuisine as the basis for all other forms of Western cooking."
Therefore, it stands to reason that if you've been fully trained to prepare classical French cuisine, you'll have a greater chance of obtaining a well-paying position working for a prestigious, high-end restaurant, hotel or spa.
Well-known, well-respected culinary schools include French cooking techniques as part of their core curriculum. Some skills you will learn in a typical program:
Cutting techniques. Obtain the basics of knife selection, safety and proper handling. Determine which part of the knife (tip, cutting edge, heel) is appropriate for the type of cut required. Discover the correct cutting technique for certain foods (soft/hard vegetables, meats, citrus, garlic, onions, etc.). Practice common cutting methods such as peeling and turning, paring, chopping, dicing and mincing.
Heating methods. Have you ever wondered with the difference between moist-heat and dry-heat cookery is? Find out how sauteeing differs from pan frying. Learn to properly deep-fat fry certain foods for the best taste, texture and consistency. Classic French cooking courses offer hands-on training in heating methods such as braising, boiling, stewing, steaming; broiling, roasting, griddling, grilling, pan roasting and pan searing.
Seasoning and flavoring. Did you know that salt is a seasoning, but pepper is considered a flavoring? Become educated on the identification and use of herbs, spices and flavoring agents to enhance your culinary creations. Find out how much of a particular herb to use when it's picked fresh, as opposed to dried and stored. Assemble a bouquet garni for use in soups and stews. Learn which types of dishes require that spices be toasted prior to use.
Stock preparation. Meat, fish and vegetable-based stocks add a extra dimension and depth of flavor to many classic French recipes. In a typical culinary education program, students learn how to prepare stock and then convert it to broth, bouillon and consommÃ©. Expect a full course including stock preparation, use and storage tips.
Sauces and Soups. If you're an adventuresome cook, you may already know how to craft a proper hollandaise, bechamel, demi-glace and so forth. You may have even tried your hand at a few chowders, cream soups and bisques. Even so: with formal education, you can expect to refine your skills and get the leading edge in the highly competitive, fast-turnover world of fine cuisine.
There are many more critical aspects of French cuisine than listed here. Mastering them, and receiving your diploma from a prominent culinary institution, is the first step in obtaining a rewarding career as a professional chef.