BOB BOWERSOX, SALESMAN supremo for QVC—and the cable home-shopping channel's chef-in-residence—is really cooking today. His corn, squash and green-chili stew looks mmm-mmm good. But, wait, there's more: check out the 12" Castex nonstick pan Bowersox is using. That pan, he says (as the camera zooms in), can be yours for the low, low price of $46.

And now, back to our stew. "Let me add a little pepper," says Bowersox, 47, reaching for a pepper mill that's "available to you today," he says, "if you'd like to have it." The price: just $47.14.

Viewers who phoned in on a recent Sunday at noon during his weekly cooking show, In the Kitchen with Bob, obviously thought the brass pepper mill (No. K-2943) was nothing to sneeze at. They bought 70 of 'em in less than a minute. Meanwhile the Castex pans (K-4167) were going like hotcakes (50 of them sold in 15 minutes). Small wonder, then, that Bowersox's show is a virtual zirconium mine for QVC, grossing a lot of celery each week in sales of pots and pans, cutlery and gadgetry.

The bait, of course, is food, glorious food. Since the show's premiere in 1991, Bowersox, a onetime chef and restaurateur, has received as many as 4,500 requests a week for his easy-to-prepare recipes. So it was inevitable that In the Kitchen with Bob should hatch a cookbook of the same title. The result: a merchandising miracle. Flogging the cookbook on Sept. 25, Bowersox wowed his bosses by receiving orders for more than 155,000 copies—the most of any single item offered in QVC's eight-year history.

"It was an exhilarating, proud day," says Doug Briggs, president of QVC Electronic Retailing. "Everyone was ecstatic." Who wouldn't be? Not since last May, when In the Kitchen with Rosie, by Oprah Winfrey's personal diet guru, Rosie Daley, sold 20,000 copies nationally in Barnes & Noble bookstores in one day, has a chef whetted so many appetites so quickly.

Bowersox thinks he knows why the cookbook, now in its third printing by William Morrow, is selling so fast, both at bookstores (for $20) and on QVC (for less). "It's really fine food—fast," he says. "In the same time that it'll take you to throw a hot dog in a pot of water and warm up a can of baked beans, I can cook you swordfish with steamed baby carrots and asparagus."

In his book, Bowersox leavens his recipes with chatty asides about his family and friends such as Barbara Prender-gast, a loan officer at his bank who supplied his recipe for German potato soup. The same folksy banter pervades his 20 hours a week of on-camera spiels, both on his cooking show and his stints as a QVC senior program host, happily hawking everything from power saws to jewelry to computers to linens. "What I want to be is more a friend than a broadcaster," he says. "Part of how you do that is to let people into your life." Which is why Bowersox often talks about Toni, 38, his wife of six years. "QVC viewers saw us meet, get engaged, get married and have a family," he says.

"Well, they've heard about it," corrects Toni, a former lighting designer now studying for a degree in education while raising their daughter Taylor, 4, and Toni's half-sister Stephanie, 9, in a comfortable, contemporary brick home in Wilmington, Del, an hour's drive from his TV kitchen in West Chester, Pa.

As a child, the closest that Bowersox ever got to a grill was when he was 8 and his father, Don, a sales manager for DuPont car products, taught the Cub Scout how to broil a burger in the backyard. (Don's Unbelievably Good Garlic Soup recipe is in the cookbook, along with his wife Marilee's Sweet Potato Puffs.) His dad's job took the family, including Bob's younger siblings Maggie and Paul from Charleston, W. Va., where Bob was born, to Denver, West-field, N.J., and finally Wilmington. After his junior year at the University of Delaware, Bowersox dropped out to become a rock and roller in New York City. In 1974 he was back in Wilmington, booking acts for a nightclub chain. "I ended up hanging out in the kitchen a lot," he says. By 1978 he had learned enough to open his own eatery, the Crepe Chalet, which he sold two years later. He then launched a music magazine, Fine Times. That exposure won him a local radio show, a newspaper nightlife column and a job as a lifestyle host for a local cable channel. The then-fledgling QVC beckoned in 1986. "All I did was follow opportunities," he says. "I just went for it," including, finally, a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Delaware in 1991.

Now the shopping channel's Renaissance pitchman is planning a second cookbook, as well as a line of In the Kitchen-brand utensils. But Bowersox takes his culinary stardom in stride. "The people who walk up to Toni and me on the street don't talk to me as if I were Mel Gibson," he says. "It's 'Hey, Bob! How come you're not at work?' "

MICHAEL A. LIPTON
JENNIFER MENDELSOHN in Wilmington

  • Contributors:
  • Jennifer Mendelsohn.