To become a professional chef, my first advice would be to get a job in a kitchen. Seek out the best restaurant in your area, and ask for work. Even if it is just washing dishes or peeling vegetables, you will get exposed to what real kitchen life is like. Set your ego aside, and be hungry for knowledge.
As for culinary school, many think it is overpriced and not necessary. Personally, I earned a BA in Culinary Management from the Art Institute of Austin. While it was expensive, I learned a strong foundation in many skills that are necessary to be a well-rounded professional Chef. Compared to other schools, AI taught world cuisine rather than just French, which exposed me to many more techniques and flavors. It gave me hands-on cooking experience, but also supplemented my knowledge with classes in finance, management, sanitation, and many other specialized subjects. I would not have been able to excel as fast as I did after graduating, had I not first attended culinary school. Reflecting on my experience, I am happy with my decision to get my Bachelor's degree, but getting my Associates would have been more cost-effective.
If a big name culinary school is too expensive, try looking for a local community college that offers a certificate program or cooking classes. Don't feel the only way to be successful in this industry is to go culinary school, but it will definitely give you an advantage in the field.
With school, the industry, and life, you get out what you put in.