My friend who is an executive chef at a large facility says the 3 important things he looks for are:
* basic food knowledge (handling, safety, storage, sanitation, etc.)
* knife skills (chop, mince, cube, dice, slice, julienne, cut meats, trim fat, de-bone, etc.)
* a good attitude
Community colleges and ROP programs offer culinary arts courses. Whether an employer will require you to have any education or ServSafe certification is something to discuss directly. (ServSafe is certification after passing a state exam in food handling and safety).
Depending on the employer needs and circumstances, sometimes having a lot of food handling experience in your own kitchen or from volunteering at special events or in a nonprofit kitchen (like at a church or a mission), you may be able to use that experience as leverage.